Kitov buys program designed to stop cancer drug resistance

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The deal gives Kitov a drug that could boost the effectiveness of Afinitor, Erbitux and Tarceva

Kitov Pharmaceuticals has bought a 56% stake in TyrNovo to take control of a cancer program. The focal point of the deal is NT219, an IRS-1/2-targeting drug designed to improve the efficacy of other cancer therapies by stopping tumors from developing resistance.

Tel Aviv, Israel-based Kitov is paying $3.8 million (€3.6 million) in cash and stock for the TyrNovo stake, which it may increase by buying up the holdings of minority shareholders. In return for the outlay, Kitov has gained a preclinical program animal studies suggest can increase the duration of response to drugs including Merck KGaA's Erbitux, Novartis’ Afinitor and Roche’s Tarceva.

TyrNovo attributes the preclinical effectiveness of the combination to NT219’s ability to attack insulin receptor substrates 1 and 2 (IRS-1/2), proteins involved in cancer cell proliferation and motility. When upregulated, IRS-1 is thought to drive resistance to cancer drugs. NT219 attempts to stop this process by eliminating IRS-1/2 and, in turn, inhibiting IRS-1/2-mediated signaling.

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If NT219 can pull off this trick in the clinic, it could unlock the full potential of cancer stalwarts such as Tarceva and the incoming wave of immuno-oncology programs. The program is a long way from showing it can hit these highs, though.

Responsibility for the long process of generating data to back up the hypothesis will now fall on Kitov, a company hitherto absent from oncology R&D. Kitov’s primary focus up to now was KIT-302, a combination of the active ingredients in Pfizer’s Celebrex and Norvasc designed to treat osteoarthritis pain and hypertension simultaneously. Having generated phase 3 data on KIT-302, Kitov expects to file for FDA approval this quarter.

The advance of KIT-302 toward commercialization leaves Kitov without much of a pipeline. Buying TyrNovo for NT219 is intended to address this gap, giving Kitov’s R&D team a new asset to move into—and potentially through—the clinic.

Kitov’s R&D team will be supported by Hadas Reuveni, the CEO of TyrNovo and co-inventor of its technology.

“I am excited to join Kitov and its team to expedite the development of NT219, which addresses a true unmet medical need for numerous oncology indications. Cancer drug resistance is the major reason for failure in anti-cancer drug treatment. Preventing resistance to the drugs is critical for improving effective cancer treatment,” Reuveni said in a statement.