Almac Discovery, RCSI form anticancer stem cell R&D pact

Almac Discovery is funding research into the interaction between its peptide and cancer stem cells

Almac Discovery and the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) have teamed up to research the effect of ALM201 on cancer stem cells. Early preclinical data suggest ALM201 may render cancer stem cells susceptible to chemotherapy and radiotherapy, a mechanism of action that opens the door to use of the drug to prevent recurrence of tumors.

RCSI’s Professor Tracy Robson, who performed the initial research that led to the development of ALM201, will head up a team tasked with exploring the interaction between the drug and cancer stem cells. ALM201 is a peptide based on the protein FKBPL.

Almac Discovery, the cancer R&D wing of the CRO Almac, is now bankrolling research to better understand the mechanism of action behind early evidence of the effect of ALM201 on the cancer cells.

“Cancer stem cells are a major barrier to successful radiotherapy and chemotherapy and can result in failure of these treatments. Our initial data demonstrates that ALM201 can transform these cells so they are no longer resistant to these therapies,” Robson said in a statement.

Researchers have recognized the value of targeting the stem cells—a source of the regenerative and drug resistance capacity of cancers—since they were identified near the start of the century. While chemo and radiotherapy can blast away many cancer cells, they may leave a depot of stem cells that can give birth to a new tumor months or years later. If Almac Discovery is right, ALM201 may enable chemo and radiotherapy to destroy these depots, cutting the risk of recurrence.

Data to back up this hypothesis are limited, but compelling enough to Almac Discovery to warrant further investigation. Almac Discovery is funding the research on the strength evidence that the drug “inhibits tumoursphere forming efficiency in a number of cancer cell-lines and targets breast cancer cells both in vitro and in vivo.”

Generating data showing ALM201’s effect on cancer stem cells would open the door to tests of the use of the drug in more situations. To date, ALM201 has advanced on the basis of its potential to block the growth of tumor blood vessels, an approach designed to cut the cancer off from the oxygen and nutrients it needs to grow.

Almac Discovery moved ALM201 into a phase 1 dose-escalation trial in 2015. The first part of the study is testing the drug in patients with advanced solid tumors. Once this stage is complete, the trial will enroll a biomarker-selected population of ovarian cancer patients.