|Biopharmaceutical company Anchiano Therapeutics completed the process of voluntarily delisting from the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange on Tuesday, aiming to catalyze the development of novel cancer therapies by securing increased backing from American investors.
Now traded only on the Nasdaq, Anchiano’s gene therapy technology is based on introducing a “Trojan horse” into cancer cells – a toxic gene that is activated in cancer cells and kills them.
The company is currently focused on treating early-stage bladder cancer, but says the principle is applicable to many cancer types.
“The best source of capital for drug development companies is based in the United States, with American investors possessing a good understanding of the drug development process and biopharma industry,” Anchiano president and CEO Dr. Frank G. Haluska told The Jerusalem Post on a recent visit to Israel.
“Identifying a thought-leading investor from the American community has very strong favorable prognostics for the company. Coupling strong US investment with the emergence of data in the next six months or so gives us the best prospects for capitalizing the company correctly.”
Located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Jerusalem’s Har Hotzvim science campus, Anchiano’s research activities are based upon the discovery of the human H19 gene by the late Hebrew University professor, Avraham Hochberg.
“Although our headquarters are in Cambridge, part of our R&D activities will remain in Israel,” said Haluska. “The reason for delisting from the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange is to make investing in the company more simple and trading in the stock less uncertain with the arbitrage between the two exchanges.”
Therapy based on H19, a gene expressed in over 40 different types of cancer, aims to kill cancer cells while sparing normal bladder tissue.
The toxin used by Anchiano is part of the diphtheria toxin, and is so potent that even one molecule can kill the whole cell. The company is able to induce the expression of the diphtheria toxin only in cancer cells by fusing the diphtheria gene with part of the H19 gene.
“This approach, based on innovation and technology that came out of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, was really born 15 years ago. What has prevented it from moving more quickly is primarily the right climate for supporting gene therapy and believing it will work,” said Haluska.
“There have been a number of big transactions recently in the gene therapy arena. Large pharma is investing in either its own gene therapy efforts, like Novartis, or acquiring gene therapy operations, like Pfizer and Roche.”
Anchiano is currently situated – Haluska believes – to take advantage of the increasing awareness that gene therapy is a plausible approach to treating cancer and other diseases.
In April 2018, the company announced that it secured $22.8 million in funding, led by Israeli private equity fund Shavit Capital, and joined by new and existing US and Israeli investors, including life sciences investment company Clal Biotechnology Industries.
“The funding enabled us to start our first pivotal trial, which was critical to the company and gave us momentum toward potential approval,” said Haluska.
“It also laid the groundwork for an initial public offering on Nasdaq. As soon as the US government reached a compromise to end its shutdown in January, we embarked on the IPO and raised $30.5m. in funding.”
Anchiano’s Inodiftagene vixteplasmid therapy, formerly BC-819, has been tested in six clinical trials to date, of which three trials were for the treatment for non-muscle-invasive bladder cancer (NMIBC).
The company’s current pivotal development program features two registrational trials in NMIBC. The first trial, the Codex Trial, commenced in December 2018 and is now recruiting patients. The first interim data from the trial is expected by the end of the year.