Emerging Drug Developer: Intrexon

Intrexon prepares to shift its HQ to Maryland

With a lead therapeutic cancer vaccine in early-stage trials and a new venture round in the works, the executives at Intrexon Corp. are planning a move from Blacksburg, VA to the biotech hub in Maryland.

Robert Beech, the company's vice president of business development at Intrexon, says that research and development work will stay in Blacksburg, but it made a lot of sense to shift the location of its headquarters to Maryland.

"In terms of bringing in top-tier senior executive talent, a lot is there (in Maryland) or willing to move there," says Beech. Top manufacturing facilities are close by, executives have easy access to flights around the world--plus it's easier to stay in touch with regulatory and legislative developments.

The move may well have helped Intrexon lure Dr. Ronald Herberman to the company as its new chief medical officer, oncology. Herberman is a prominent cancer researcher who led the Cancer Institute at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine until a few months ago.

Now he'll play a key role in the further development of Intrexon's lead tumor program, which began recruiting patients in May for a Phase Ib safety and tolerability trial that is also intended to gain some insights into secondary endpoints. Researchers engaged in the INcell-1001/AD-1001 program extract dendritic cells from patients, modify them to express Interleukin-12 and then inject them into a tumor, where it is activated by an oral small molecule.

"It's a combination gene and cell therapy," says Beech. Researchers control the timing and level of expression of IL-12 as a means of boosting the immune system and getting the most effective anti-tumor response, he explains. Concentrating the response directly in the tumor should also significantly reduce the therapy's toxicity compared to currently used drugs. Phase Ib should be completed in the first quarter of 2010, after which the company can consider its next steps.

Not only is the company in the clinic, it has also expanded into human protein production, and there are other efforts underway to move into industrial enzymes and agricultural biotechnology.

"We opened an office in San Francisco for human protein production," adds Beech. "Underneath the core technology we have is a modular genetic engineering system tied to DNA control components that we can rapidly optimize to get to whatever type of expression profile we need for particular proteins."

In late June, Intrexon announced that it had garnered an additional $10 million in Series C-2 money from Third Security, the company's lead investor. Add all the investment capital Intrexon raised, along with the backing provided to RheoGene, a developer it acquired back in early 2007, and the total comes to $88 million, says Beech. Later this year Intrexon plans to raise new funds to fuel its expansion.

At one point, says Beech, Intrexon disclosed it had 140 workers. The company isn't discussing the current size of its payroll, but Beech says that it isn't that high today.

The goal now is to go into the clinic to study additional cancer tumor types, derive new proteins using its protein production system and create embedded controllable bioreactors--which its web site describes as "protein production systems that can be embedded inside a patient's body and then regulated through the dosing of our external small molecule activator ligand."

That gives Intrexon an opportunity to develop partnerships, says Beech, which are now in early discussions.

Emerging Drug Developer: Intrexon
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