Immuno-oncology startup KAHR gets $5 million for trial of drug on blood cancers

Texas’s Cancer Focus Fund will support a Phase 1/2 clinical study assessing Israeli company’s flagship drug, which uses 2 proteins – 1 to mark cancer cells and 1 to weaken them

Shoshanna Solomon is The Times of Israel's Startups and Business reporter

Illustrative: Cancer cells inside the body (wildpixel; iStock by Getty Images)
Illustrative: Cancer cells inside the body (wildpixel; iStock by Getty Images)

Immuno-oncology startup KAHR said Wednesday that it had set up a collaboration with the venture capital fund Cancer Focus Fund, LP for an investment of $5 million to finance a second clinical trial of the Israeli firm’s lead drug candidate, this time testing it for the treatment of blood cancers.

A first clinical trial of Jerusalem-based KAHR’s DSP107 drug is already underway to test out the drug in solid cancers, both as a standalone therapy and in combination with a medication developed by Roche.

The Cancer Focus Fund was set up in collaboration with the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center to provide funding and clinical expertise to advance promising cancer therapies.

The Cancer Focus Fund investment will support a Phase 1/2 clinical study assessing KAHR’s DSP107 drug for the treatment of acute myeloid leukemia (AML), myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) and T-cell lymphoproliferative diseases, KAHR said in a statement.

KAHR is a developer of new immuno-oncology drug candidates based on fusion proteins. These drugs are complex structures made by fusing the natural sequence of different proteins to make them bind to two or three targets on cancer and immune cells.

Last year, KAHR got a nod from the US Food and Drug Administration to start clinical trials for DSP107, which is based on a CD47x41BB compound that simultaneously targets cancer cells, weakens their defenses and activates an effective, local response.

This is possible because the drug performs a dual action, using dual signaling proteins (DSP) — namely, one human protein marks the cancer cells while a second human protein activates immune cells and inhibits the powers of the cancer cells.

For its investment, the Cancer Focus Fund will receive a combination of equity and future payments from KAHR based on the drug meeting certain milestones.

“KAHR’s multi-functional immuno-recruitment fusion proteins exemplify the innovative approach to cancer we seek to support,” said Ross Barrett, a founder and managing partner of Cancer Focus Fund.

The collaboration with the Cancer Focus Fund will contribute expertise in the planning of the Phase1/2 clinical trial, said Yaron Pereg, CEO of KAHR, in the statement. The trial marks the second clinical study for DSP107, which is currently being investigated in a Phase 1/2 trial for solid tumors, both as a standalone drug and in combination with a therapy developed by Roche.

The new trial will be conducted at MD Anderson under the direction of Naval Daver, MD, associate professor in the Department of Leukemia. The two-part open label, dose escalation and expansion study is expected to enroll up to 112 patients.

The study will evaluate among others the safety and efficacy of DSP107 as standalone and in combination with the Roche drug.

Investors in the KAHR include Flerie Invest AB, Oriella Limited a Consensus Business Group Limited subsidiary, Hadassit Bio Holdings, Pavilion Capital, Mirae Asset, Korean Investment Partners and DSC Investments.

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