iNovacia will operate as the drug discovery services arm.

Swedish cancer drug firm Kancera is taking over Stokholm-based iNovacia, which provides drug discovery services to the biotech and pharma industries. iNovacia will become Kancera’s CRO arm.

iNovacia offers a range of services for both synthetic and biomolecules, spanning assay development and lead optimization, to medicinal and computational chemistry, ADME profiling, fragment-based NMR screening, and protein-protein/ligand interaction studies. The firm has a strategic alliance in place with new Jersey-based Provid Pharmaceuticals to serve the U.S. market and with Moscow-based Asinex for the development of chemical screening libraries.

iNovacia and Kancera already have links. iNovacia was spun out from Pharmacia and Biovitrum’s drug development unit back in 2006. The firm subsequently established partnerships with the Cancer Centre Karolinska and Sprint Bioscience, which specializes in structure-based pharmaceutical design. Then, just last year iNovacia and Sprint Bioscience together with the Karolinska Institute and a group of private investors founded Kancera with a starting pipeline of two anticancer projects.

The two projects still form the backbone of Kancera’s R&D operations. The PFKFB3 program for solid tumors is currently at the lead-optimization stage. An ROR-1 program for leukemia therapy is expected to yield a clinical candidate in 2013.  

PFKFB3 is one of four variants of the phosphofructokinase 2 enzyme. This variant has been shown to be highly up-regulated in the absence of oxygen and is overexpressed and overactivated in many types of human cancer, the firm points out. Kancera’s project builds on the hypothesis that specific inhibition of PFKFB3 will lead to a reduction in metabolism and cell growth in oxygen-deficient cancer environments.

The firm expects blocking PFKFB3 will effectively starve and weaken the tumor cells, reducing their resistance to radiotherapy and chemotherapy. Last month Kancera and its partner Sprint reported solving the 3- dimensional crystal structure of a novel chemical class in complex with the target enzyme PFKFB3.

The leukemia program is focused on developing either antibody or small molecule inhibitors of the growth factor ROR-1 as a means to prompting leukemic cells to commit cellular suicide. Kancera says its work has already led to several classes of synthetic compounds that are effective against ROR-1.

In January the firm also announced it had identified compounds that kill chronic lymphocytic leukemia cells 25 times more selectively than cytostatic drugs currently used for treating the disease. Kancera is in addition looking to expand its pipeline such that it has at least four projects running at various phases of the preclinical phase in parallel with new drug discovery efforts. It aims to give priority to projects that could yield drug candidates within 3–5 years from start.

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