Celgene buys into upstart's new approach to picking cancer combos

Jim Olson--Courtesy of Presage

Fast-moving Celgene has turned to Presage Biosciences to begin testing the potential of cancer drug combinations in animals, paying $5 million upfront to support the research and taking an $8 million equity stake in the up-and-coming biotech. Celgene ($CELG) also committed to an unspecified back-end package of development and commercial milestones for Presage, which emerged back in 2008 from the lab of Jim Olson, a prominent pediatric oncology specialist and serial entrepreneur at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle.

This is Presage's second significant research pact. The biotech also struck a deal to work with the Takeda subsidiary Millennium in Boston about a year ago, says Presage President Nathan Caffo. And he's been working on a third deal to complete a plan to set up three key collaborations to begin to make its mark on cancer R&D.

Initially, Caffo tells FierceBiotech, the company was focused on the diagnostic technology that Olson crafted to determine if the experimental methods and drugs he relied on to treat brain cancer in kids had real potential to help his patients. Positive results could be continued while unpromising responses could be ditched and replaced.

"You could look at measuring the local response in the tumor, at an array of responses across the span of the tumor," says Caffo. "That was very valuable to determine if the therapy was effective." 

Nathan Caffo--Courtesy of Presage

Out of that effort, which has continued with a clinical diagnostic tool now in development, Presage  has been building partnerships with developers to measure tumor response for their experimental approaches. In the Celgene deal, Presage's staffers--now a group of 21--will be measuring tumor responses for drug combos in mice and dogs, helping guide Celgene in the selection of programs for the clinic. And Caffo says the company's next step will explore its technology's potential during the clinical development stage for drug developers. 

Olson, a professor at the University of Washington and an active practitioner as well, has been a busy entrepreneur in the Seattle biotech scene. He also co-founded Blaze Bioscience, which just days ago announced that it had raised $8.5 million to develop its technology for "painting" cancer cells, illuminating all the tissue that surgeons need to remove in order to prevent a reoccurrence of the cancer. This is just the kind of startup activity that Seattle needs to spark a resurgence of its flagging biotech hub.

- here's the release

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