BerGenBio won a grant of NOK 13 million (about $2.2 million) from the Research Council of Norway’s User-driven Research based Innovation program (BIA) to help fund research into new therapeutics for inhibiting tumor epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT), a key driver of metastasis and a mechanism of drug-resistance.

The research project, titled: “Novel therapeutics inhibiting the EMT/Axl pathway in aggressive cancers,” is designed to apply advanced R&D strategies to identify and develop new drug candidates with potential to prevent and reverse acquired cancer drug resistance.

While an estimated one in three people die of cancer, 90% of those deaths arise from tumors that have spread and become resistant to treatment. 

Past studies have shown that the Axl receptor kinase is closely linked to drug resistance, and BerGenBio reasons that drugs that inhibit the Axl kinase could offer a promising potential new treatment option. The company bases its thinking on studies connected with development of its drug candidate BGB324, a first-in-class selective Axl kinase inhibitor now in Phase Ib clinical studies.

Those studies are evaluating its safety and initial signs of efficacy to treat different cancers, both as a single agent and in combination with other drugs. BerGenBio says the development of a second generation of Axl-pathway targeting therapeutics could lead to more effective cancer-fighting drugs.

BerGenBio will use its BIA funding to apply its thinking to new, highly innovative drug lead candidates with early preclinical proof-of-concept.

The award marks the second significant funding for BerGenBio in as many months. On Feb. 4, the company said it raised NOK 75 million (about $12.6 million) from a syndicate of new and existing investors through a private placement. That funding followed a $6 million financing round in May 2013 that was intended to complete the Phase Ib studies, data from which is expected to be reported in 2015.

In 2012, the company won NOK 11.7 million (about $2 million) from BIA toward “Targeting Cancer Stem Cells with Axl inhibitors to Treat Advanced Metastatic Cancer.” Also that year, BerGenBio completed an $8.8 million Series A financing round to advance BGB324 into clinical trials and develop a companion diagnostic.

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