Cormorant Pharmaceuticals is a recently founded biopharmaceutical company focusing on the development of innovative cancer drugs. The company is located in the Karolinska Institute Science Park and has established collaborations with several research groups around the world focusing on cancer research, cancer stem cell biology and metastasis development. CEO is Maarten de Château, MD PhD and chairman is Urban Paulsson, Esq.
Cancer research of the last 10 years has shown that tumors consist of ordinary cancer cells and a small fraction of cancer stem cells (CSC). During conventional cancer treatment consisting of chemotherapy or radiotherapy the bulk of the tumor is usually killed. However, this kind of treatment normally leaves the inherently resistant cancer stem cells behind. These CSCs can give rise to recurrence and metastasis. A combination of conventional treatment modalities and a targeted therapy aimed at CSCs would potentially lead to fewer recurrences of cancer and improved chances of survival for cancer patients.
New targeted therapies for cancer treatment on the market are all directed at targets that are of importance for the ordinary cancer cells. So far, no drugs targeted specifically at the CSC have reached the market. Recently published studies have identified interleukin 8 (IL-8) as an important growth factor for CSC in breast cancer and as a very interesting target for the development of a cancer stem cell targeting drug. IL-8 has also been shown to promote epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT), a process whereby cancer cells become more invasive and prone to metastasize. Moreover, a study of gene expression in 579 clinical samples of triple negative breast cancer (TNBC) identified IL-8 as the single most important risk factor of poor prognosis in this breast cancer subtype. TNBC constitutes approximately 15% of all breast cancer cases, with worst outcome of all subtypes and no targeted treatment approved. A recent publication also described the role of IL-8 in osteoclastogenesis and bone metastasis in breast cancer.
Cormorant Pharmaceuticals has acquired global rights to a monoclonal antibody against IL-8 from Genmab. HuMax-IL8, has been tested in pre-clinical models and in patients with inflammatory skin disease and was shown to be safe and tolerable. Further pre-clinical testing is ongoing and a phase I/II study in cancer patients is planned to start in 2015.