Lubbock, Texas-based oncology drug developer CerRx was awarded a $1.1 million grant from the National Institute of Health (NIH) to finance their research on cancer cell-killing therapies. The company will invest the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant into a Phase I study of two lead novel intravenous (IV) compounds called fenretinide and safingol, which, when combined are thought to increase the toxic “ceramide” waxes of cancerous cells to destroy them.
The company’s novel research focuses on ceramides, the wax-like building blocks used by cells to make membranes and as signaling molecules. The idea of combining IV fenretinide and IV safingol is to force cancer cells to overproduce certain ceramides in order to cause their own death. The company expects that this process won’t have any negative impact on the patients’ healthy cells.
The studies performed by CerRx are promising, since the combination revealed multiple, sustained, complete responses in T-cell lymphomas, as well as early indications of activity in adenocarcinomas of the colon and esophagus, and in pediatric neuroblastoma.
“Both IV fenretinide and IV safingol have successfully completed phase I single agent studies. Fenrentide has shown early signs of activity including sustained complete remissions in several cancer patients who remain free of disease for many years and laboratory studies show that safingol markedly potentiates the cancer-specific activity of fenretinide,” explained Bill Simpson, chief operating officer of the company.
“The combination of fenretinide plus safingol provides a very exciting and novel approach to selectively attacking cancer cells of many types in adults and children and we are delighted that this important clinical trial will be carried out here in Texas,” noted chief scientific officer of CerRx and director at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center (TTUHSC) School of Medicine Cancer Center, C. Patrick Reynolds, M.D., Ph.D.
The study will be conducted in collaboration with investigators from the TTUHSC School of Medicine Cancer Center, and is also supported by the Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) and the National Cancer Institute (NCI) Developmental Therapeutics Program of the NIH.