Technology to detect cancer before it spreads




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Video title: Technology to detect cancer before it spreads
Released on: April 20, 2012. © PharmaTelevision Ltd
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In this episode of PharmaTelevision News Review, filmed in Amsterdam at BioEurope Spring 2012, Fintan Walton talks to Maria Halasz, CEO of Cellmid
Cellmid's Midkine novel target and portfolio of assets
Fintan Walton:
Hello and welcome to Pharmatelevision News Review, on this show I have Maria Halasz who is CEO of a company called Cellmid which is based in Sydney, Australia Welcome.
Maria Halasz:
Thank you Fintan.
Fintan Walton:
Maria, Cellmid is a company you have been very closely associated with for many years, tell us a little about the history of Cellmid and what's on is all about.
Maria Halasz:
So Cellmid is a registered biotechnology company obviously and we have been developing a therapeutic and diagnostics around a novel target called Midkine. Cellmid as a company has acquired the whole Midkine portfolio around four years ago so we essentially regenerated the portfolio of assets that are in the company.
Fintan Walton:
The company is divided into several parts, we are gonna really focus this interview on the pharmaceutical side and the diagnostic side so give us some understanding of what you got there in terms of the pharmaceutical drug therapy side but also what's on the diagnostic side.
Maria Halasz:
Sure Fintan, so we know that novel targets are an important area of research and what we have in Cellmid is literally a novel target and we have portfolio of intellectual property that is the largest portfolio of assets around Midkine globally, so we are developing diagnostics and therapeutics around this novel target. The target is implicated in inflammation and cancer.
Significance of Midkine in Cancer
Fintan Walton:
Okay, so what's the relevance then of Midkine, as you said it's a product that's been around for sometime or molecule has been around for sometime tell us how is its significance what is its significance particularly in cancer.
Maria Halasz:
Look Midkine is believed to be one of the primary movers of cancers if you like and Midkine in fact is one of the early promoters and you can find Midkine very early stages even in stage zero cancers in some cases, in fact our diagnostic portfolio is centered around Midkine as an oncology biomarker and we have got validation data in 26 different cancers where Midkine appears very early stage or it is a good prognostic marker to predict survival.
Therapeutic programs: Focus and approach
Fintan Walton:
Okay so looking at the therapeutic program tell us a little about that and what stage that is at.
Maria Halasz:
So our therapeutic programs are really focused on around inhibiting Midkine why because Midkine is sitting there as a primary mover of inflammation and to prevent the subsequent damage that inflammatory cells often cause preventing that by using an inhibitory agent against Midkine we believe that we can significantly affect to the diseased cells. So we have therapeutic programs in an early stage and a preclinical stage for the treatment of a number of inflammatory conditions such as kidney disease, COPD and also (indiscernable).
Fintan Walton:
So these are different means by which you inhibit Midkine or you taking a singular approach?
Maria Halasz:
We are taking a singular approach in fact one of the major outcomes of our last year has been that we have humanized the first ever anti-Midkine antibody which now we are manufacturing and putting through another pre-clinical validation program.
Deal with Celera and corporate strategy towards Biomarker programs
Fintan Walton:
Sure so now you mentioned obviously the biomarker side, what is the corporate strategy from Cellmid's point of view, you've got the biomarker itself and obviously you got your therapeutic side so what's your strategy?
Maria Halasz:
Certainly our biomarker Midkine is a very strong marker (indiscernable) therapeutic programs so clearly it's component of our own drug development program, however Midkine is so extensively validated in Oncology that we felt early on after acquiring this portfolio that to make best use of it we really should look at partnerships and in 2009 we signed our first license agreement with Celera [PharmaDeals ID = 34102]and they have worked on and they have been working on using Midkine as one of the portfolio panels that they have got for lung cancer. This program I understand from Celera and they have made that public recently is well advanced and after their acquisition by Quest [PharmaDeals ID = 39775] they are continuing on that program and we can expect it as a lab developed assay in a (indiscernable). As far as our the rest of our programs are concerned we really just want to continue what we have done with Celera and continue the out licensing of our biomarker to companies potential partners who could either develop inhibitory diagnostic assay using Midkine for various cancers or we would also like to see Midkine as a companion diagnostic in clinical trials for drug development in fact this is an area where we think we can add significant value because we have extensive data for Midkine as a prognostic marker in a number of cancer areas.
Fintan Walton:
So that's really important obviously the prognosis the progression of the disease and its predicted outcome is becoming increasingly important?
Maria Halasz:
Absolutely I think everybody is aware now that we can't sustain the cost of drug development and one way to really reduce drug development cost is to have reliable markers that can early predict a success or otherwise of a drug and we had to have significant advances recently and great news when Stromedix for example they have been to able to progress on their clinical trial after very small patient population because they had developed a very significant predictive marker that they (indiscernable) has been able to use to progress that study. So we are looking at using Midkine or offering Midkine to clinical trials where it can add value and potentially reduce the cost of the trial if u like.
Opportunities around target and partnership strategy
Fintan Walton:
Sure yes so you've got the anti-Midkine therapeutic protein but you have humanized antibody now?
Maria Halasz:
That's correct.
Fintan Walton:
Are you gonna take this how far are you gonna take this on your own? Are you looking for partners or what stage you are gonna look for partners?
Maria Halasz:
In our therapeutic antibody program we are very excited about that program because with a novel target and multiple indications clearly we think that we have got a great opportunity to affect disease and we believe that with the quality of program that we are looking at we would like to get a partner early on we are also a small company so we understand that we don't have resources to fully develop this program and it will be very useful to have a partner early on partially to facilitate some of the programs that we may not otherwise pursue but partially to assist us and guide us through this really complicated process.
Fintan Walton:
Yes and it's also because of the breadth of potential opportunity for that particular antibody is making the right decisions around what therapy area you should focus on initially and having the rights also for that is critically at this stage.
Maria Halasz:
Absolutely and we have multiple intellectual property layers around this particular area not only we have the entire space around Midkine inhibition for inflammatory diseases but we also have specific patents around modulating regulatory T-cells around adhesion and various aspects of the inflammatory process so because we have got such an extensive and deep patent portfolio the opportunities around this target are really out there for us and there is absolutely no way that as a small biotechnology company we could fully utilize that without a significant partner.
Future plans
Fintan Walton:
Sure, now in terms of the future for Cellmid what's the vision do you have for over the next five years, what would you like to Cellmid do over the next five years?
Maria Halasz:
We would like to have multiple partners in the biomarker program of course, we would like to see Midkine as a marker that is really used there so it could benefit patients and it could benefit our industry. We would like to see our first antibody in clinic and doing well in one of our first indications which potentially could be a kidney disease and we feel that both of this are highly achievable within the next five years.
Maria Halasz's perspective: Current market environment for companies listed on ASX
Fintan Walton:
Sure, and you are a publically listed company you are on the ASX in Sydney?
Maria Halasz:
That's correct.
Fintan Walton:
And people often talk about Australian companies been on ASX, from your perspective what is the environment right now for companies like yours who are listed on the ASX, is it particularly tough or is it still is there still some sort of fluidity there or liquidity in the market at the moment?
Maria Halasz:
Look it very much depends on a company I think in Australia the industry is becoming much more sophisticated. We now have some serious success stories behind us and I think that really has been putting us on a map as an industry. There is still an element of wild investors going after a risky stock which of course we have a great tradition of that in Australia we are after all the country of resources out there in the hot bag but I think that's less and less relevant and those companies that have long term success would all have very strong scientific fundamentals and also strong business development product development programs and for those companies there will always be money available.
Fintan Walton:
So it's important to see that taking a risk on ASX still is worth it from a biotech point of view?
Maria Halasz:
Absolutely and when you look at that companies and their valuations there are some very attractive companies at the moment on the market.
Fintan Walton:
Maria Halasz thank you very much indeed for coming on the show.
Maria Halasz:
Thank you Fintan.
Fintan Walton
Dr Fintan Walton is the Founder and CEO of PharmaVentures . After completing his doctoral research on the genetics of cell proliferation at the University of Michigan(US)and Trinity College (Dublin, Ireland), Dr Walton gained broad commercial experience in biotechnology in management positions at Bass and Celltech plc (1982-1992).
Maria Halasz
CEO
At the time of recording this PTV interview Maria Halasz serves as Chief Executive Officer of Cellmid . Maria Halasz has been involved with biotechnology companies for 17 years; initially working in executive positions in biotechnology firms, then managing investment funds and later holding senior positions in corporate finance specialising in life sciences. Prior to joining Cellmid Ms Halasz had been an adviser to an independent sector based research firm in life sciences and managed Direct Capital Group Pty Ltd, a specialist biotechnology fund. She has also been a venture partner at the Emerging Technology Fund of venture capital firm Allen & Buckeridge. Since taking over as Chief Executive and Managing Director of Cellmid Ms Halasz has led the restructure of the business, the acquisition of the midkine intellectual property portfolio and the recapitalisation of the company. Ms Halasz is a Member of the Australian Institute of Company Directors and holds a science degree in Microbiology and an MBA.
PharmaVentures
PharmaVentures is a corporate finance and transactions advisory firm that has served hundreds of clients worldwide in relation to their strategic deal making in the pharmaceutical, life science and healthcare sectors. Our key offerings include: Transactions / deal negotiations; Product / technology valuations; Deal term advice; Due diligence & expert reports; Strategy formulation; Alliance management; and Expert opinion for litigation/arbitration cases. PharmaVentures provides the global expertise to ensure our clients generate the highest possible return on investment from all their deal making activities. We have experience of all therapeutic areas and can offer advice on both product and technology commercialisation.
Cellmid
Cellmid is an Australian biotechnology company developing innovative novel therapies and diagnostic tests for inflammatory diseases , heart attack and cancer. Cellmid holds the largest and most comprehensive portfolio of intellectual property related to midkine and midkine antagonists globally. The Company's most advanced clinical development program is for the treatment of acute myocardial infarction utilising the midkine protein. Cellmid is also developing anti-midkine antibodies for the treatment of inflammatory and autoimmune disorders. In addition, Cellmid is commercialising midkine as a biomarker for cancer diagnosis. Elevated midkine concentration in the blood and other body fluids is strongly indicative of cancer. Cellmid's first product, the MK-ELISA, is a blood test that sensitively and accurately measures serum midkine levels.