Oncoceutics takes off, pursues p53 work

Newly-formed Oncoceutics, a Pennsylvania-based oncology company, announced its launch today. The start-up's lead initiative is the development of a drug compound using technology developed from research conducted by Wafik El-Deiry, a physician-scientist at the University of Pennsylvania, to restore tumor suppressor pathway signaling in tumors with a primary focus on mutant p53 proteins.

The link between the p53 protein--the body's natural tumor suppressor--and cancer is not new. A mutated p53 protein is present in the majority of all types of cancer. The idea of fixing it has been around for about 20 years, but so far there's been no success developing therapies based on this knowledge.

According to Lee Schalop, Oncoceutics' chief business officer, Dr. El-Deiry has discovered compounds that actually fix the mutated p53 protein. "We don't have a specific compound finalized," Schalop tells FierceBiotech. "Our first goal is to find a lead candidate," which will take about a year. Schalop says it too early to know what specific cancers the compound will target, but that all of El-Deiry testing is being done in colon cancer. The resulting compound could be effective in a wide variety of cancers; the p53 protein is mutated in 70 percent of all types of the disease.

Oncoceutics will be funded by a combination of angel investors, institutional seed investors and potentially early-stage strategic investors. "We need 1.5 million to finish the screening process," says Schalop. The company is still looking for additional funding so that it can complete the screening process. Oncoceutics' founders chose this time to launch because of the promising early-stage research. "Despite the economic environment, we feel the science is powerful because it's so exciting," explained Schalop.

- see Oncoceutics' release

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