KAHR Medical, an Israeli biopharmaceutical company, says it is developing a second generation class of immunotherapy drugs that it hopes will be more effective in tackling cancer, based on the lessons learned from drugs that are already in use.
The firm announced a collaboration last week with Swiss multinational healthcare firm Roche Holding AG for human clinical trials in the US. During the trials, the firm’s new immunotherapy drug, DSP-107, will be tested both as a standalone therapy and in combination with another immunotherapy drug developed by Roche, called Tecentriq, or atezolizumab.
“Cancer cells thrive because they manage to hide from the immune system,” said Dr. Yaron Pereg, the CEO of KAHR Medical, in a phone interview.
Immunotherapy treatments — also known as immune checkpoint inhibitors — make use of the body’s own immune system to control and eliminate cancers. These recently developed drugs are considered to be revolutionizing cancer treatment. Unfortunately, not all patients respond to these treatments, so researchers globally are on the hunt to find out why, and thus improve the effectiveness of the drugs.
Immunotherapies “help the immune system to find the cancer and have changed the lives of thousands of patients,” said Pereg. “But there is a huge unmet need, as 70% of patients don’t respond to therapy.”
These drugs have focused on two main ways to fight the cancer: by marking the cancer cells to make it easier for the immune system to find them and destroy them, and by stimulating the activity of the immune cells or by blocking inhibitory signals emitted by the cancer cells.
DSP-107, developed by KAHR, takes one part of a human protein that marks cancer cells and links it to another human protein that is known to activate immune cells and inhibit the powers of the cancer cells. This creates one product with a multiple functionality, explained Pereg.
“Our drug,” said Pereg, “is a multifunctional biological drug that can do both these things at the same time: find the cancer, recruit a greater number of immune cells and block the inhibiting signals.”
KAHR licensed the DSP, or dual signaling protein, technology from its inventor, Mark Tykocinski, an expert in the field of immune regulation, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, and dean of the school of medicine. Dr. Tykocinski is the chair of KAHR Medical Scientific Advisory Board.
Pereg said that his firm is the only one developing the DSP platform of drugs and “we believe it has the potential to become an effective therapy for patients who don’t benefit from current immunotherapies.”
KAHR will be submitting an application to the US Food & Drug Administration in the coming months for permissions to perform the collaborative clinical study on humans, planned to start in the second quarter of 2020 in the US.
The trial will be conducted on patients with lung cancer, he said. “We hope our drug will also be able to expand its use to other cancers as well.”
Pereg said that the DSP-107 drug delivered “promising results” in mice as a standalone drug, but when used in combination with the Roche drug, the results “showed a strong synergistic effect,” for both tumor growth inhibition and the survival rate of the diseased mice.
Founded in 2007 by Hadasit Bio-Holdings (HBL), a technology holding firm, the Jerusalem-based KAHR has raised $32 million from investors, including Flerie Invest AB, Oriella Limited a Consensus Business Group Limited subsidiary, Korean Investment Partners, Mirae Asset and DSC Investments, according to data provided by the company.