Earlier this year spin-out company ADCendo, the University of Copenhagen and the Capital Region of Denmark entered into a worldwide license agreement to develop novel, targeted cancer treatments against certain bone, connective tissue and brain cancers. The agreement an important step towards a possible treatment for these cancers.

ADCendo was founded in 2017 by the scientist inventors, Niels Behrendt, Lars Henning Engelholm and Christoffer Nielsen, from The University of Copenhagen and Rigshospitalet and Henrik Stage, a biotech-entrepreneur active in several biotech companies and previously CEO/CFO of Santaris Pharma which was acquired by Roche in 2014.

Focusing on antibody-drug conjugate or ADC, the agreement grants ADCendo worldwide rights to explore and commercialize  inventions made by researchers at the Finsen Laboratory, a cancer research lab at Rigshospitalet which is a part of Copenhagen University Hospital, Denmark.

The laboratory´s basic research involves many years of extensive research of the mesenchymal target receptor, uPARAP, a newly discovered member of the macrophage mannose receptor family of endocytic transmembrane glycoproteins. The receptor is highly expressed by certain mesenchymal cells that are located at sites of active tissue remodeling, including human cancer, especially on sarcoma and glioblastoma cells. At the same time, with very limited expression in healthy adult tissue. Moreover, uPARAP is a constitutively recycling endocytic receptor that efficiently delivers its cargo directly into the endosomal/lysosomal system to efficiently mediate ADC processing and intracellular drug release in cancer cells.[1]

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Drug candidates
ADCendo’s drug candidates are a new class of highly potent biopharmaceutical drugs composed of an antibody linked to a biologically active drug or cytotoxic compound. This allows them to combine targeting capabilities of antibodies with the cell-killing ability of cytotoxic drugs.

In preclincal development the ADCendo scientists utilized a specific monoclonal antibody targeting uPARAP, to develop a uPARAP-directed antibody-drug conjugate coupled to the highly toxic dolastatin derivative, monomethyl auristatin E, via a cathepsin-labile valine-citrulline linker. [2]

“By targeting antigens that are highly expressed in certain cancer tissues and that hold strong ability of being internalized into the cancer cell, we can actively aim for and attack the cancer. This leaves the healthy cells much less affected than treatment with traditional chemotherapy drugs,” noted Henrik Stage, CEO of ADCendo.

Published research
Published research has documented ADCendo drug candidates’ ability to completely eradicate human cancers in animal models.

“We are excited about the opportunity to further research, develop and commercialize these drug candidates for treatment of some very serious bone, connective tissue and brain cancers for which today there are no treatments available. We will now select the most promising ADC drug candidate and take it through preclinical and clinical development and hope it may end up as a new treatment option with the potential to significantly impact the lives of cancer patients,” Stage explained.

Under the terms of the license agreement, the University of Copenhagen and Capital Region of Denmark are eligible to receive milestone payments upon successful achievement of key development – and registration milestones as well as royalties. Niels Skjærbæk, Senior Executive Advisor at the Tech Transfer Office at University of Copenhagen helped facilitate the licensing agreement.

“A promising spin-out biotech company is always a significant achievement. The ADCendo founders have been very focused and displayed great determination through this process, we are therefore all very excited about this new cancer biotech company, and we will follow the drug development challenges with great interest,” Skjærbæk added.

A number of activities aimed at investigating the use and commercialization of the ADC drugs targeting the uPARAP receptor in cancers are partly funded by a pre-seed grant from Novo Seeds. Christina Trojel-Hansen, Senior Investment Associate of Novo Seeds comments:

“We are pleased to see the significant progress the scientific founder team has made towards the building a start-up company with the support from the pre-seed funding program. ADCendo’s technology is based on exiting new biological insight and could potentially be developed for severe cancers with a high unmet medical needs,” Trojel-Hansen concluded.

ADCendo has secured funding for its early preclinical activities related to lead compound selection, pharmacology and preliminary tox studies and will initiate discussions with potential investors regarding the funding needed for scaling up, IND enabling tox and preparation for and making phase I/II studies.

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