Celgene secured an option to acquire VentiRx Pharmaceuticals as part of an exclusive worldwide collaboration centred on development of the latter’s clinical-stage anticancer TLR8 agonist VTX-2337. Under terms of the deal Celgene is paying VentiRx $35 million up front to fund further research and development of the drug through predefined clinical endpoints. VentiRx will be eligible to receive additional funding, and potentially an equity investment from Celgene.

VTX-2337 is a small molecule cancer immunotherapy designed to activate human myeloid dendritic cells (mDCs), monocytes, and natural killer (NK) cells, resulting in the production of mediators that coordinate innate and adoptive antitumor responses. VentiRx says studies have shown that direct activation of mDCs by VTX-2337 results in robust production of inflammatory cytokines and chemokines that increase cell-mediated immunity and potentially enhance the anticancer effect of standard chemotherapy. The drug also has direct effects on NK cells and augments antibody-dependent cellular toxicity (ADCC).

VentiRx is dedicated to the development and commercialization of TLR8 agonists and antagonists for the treatment of cancer, respiratory, and autoimmune diseases. Early clinical trials are ongoing to evaluate lead candidate VTX-2337 either as monotherapy, or in combination with chemotherapy or monoclonal antibodies for the treatment of solid tumors. Phase II trials in patients with head and neck cancer (VTX-2337 combined with cetuximab plus chemotherapy), and ovarian cancer (VTX plus chemotherapy) are projected to start in 2013, and 2012, respectively.

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