PsiOxus lures Lillie from Merck to fill CMO position

Pen on a business contract
PsiOxus plans to test NG-641 in 128 patients with metastatic or advanced epithelial tumors. (SARINYAPINNGAM/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

PsiOxus Therapeutics has hired Tom Lillie away from Merck to work as its chief medical officer. Lillie’s arrival coincides with the initiation of a phase 1 trial of PsiOxus’ quadrivalent viral gene therapy vector.

Before joining PsiOxus, Lillie spent four years at Merck, rising to the position of vice president, oncology global medical affairs, and prior to that more than 13 years at Amgen. Lillie also spent a spell at Aventis at the start of his career in the biopharma industry, which he joined after training as a physician.

At PsiOxus, Lillie will help advance a pipeline that features three clinical-stage anti-cancer gene therapies. PsiOxus also has a clinical-stage oncolytic virus that is partnered with Bristol-Myers Squibb.

The gene therapy platform is designed to generate intravenously administered viruses that deliver genes to tumor cells. In doing so, PsiOxus thinks it can make cancer cells produce certain molecules, effectively enlisting tumors to facilitate their own demise.

Having moved a candidate that it describes as “the mirror image of CAR-T therapies” into the clinic in December 2017, PsiOxus has begun testing its third tumor-specific immuno-gene therapy in humans. The latest drug to enter the clinic, NG-641, pushes PsiOxus’ platform further than its predecessors. 

Notably, NG-641 marks the first time PsiOxus has tested a virus that encodes for four separate genes in humans. By inserting the genes, PsiOxus hopes to get cancer cells to make a fibroblast activation protein and two chemokines to recruit and activate T cells, while also producing interferon alpha to drive dendritic cell priming.

“With NG-641, our approach of systemically delivering gene therapy vectors to turn tumor cells into drug factories is being deployed to deliver a bispecific T-cell activating protein to target cancer-associated fibroblasts via the fibroblast activation protein. This mechanism allows us to target one of the most important immunosuppressive cells in the tumor microenvironment,” PsiOxus Chief Scientific Officer Brian Champion said in a statement. 

PsiOxus plans to test NG-641 in 128 patients with metastatic or advanced epithelial tumors, thereby gaining a clearer picture of the safety, tolerability and anti-tumor activity of the drug. The first part of the trial will assess different doses of NG-641 given intratumorally and intravenously. Later, PsiOxus will run a phase 1b part of the study to assess the efficacy of NG-641 when given as a monotherapy and in combination with chemotherapy or checkpoint inhibitors.