Pascal Biosciences Inc., a drug discovery and development company, announced recently that the company has executed an exclusive, worldwide license option agreement with STC.UNM, The University of New Mexico’s technology-transfer and economic-development organization, to acquire a therapeutic monoclonal antibody for B-cell precursor acute lymphoblastic leukemia (BCP-ALL).

ALL is the most common childhood cancer, peaking around two to five years of age, and is also seen in older adults above age 50. This disease is caused by mutations during the early development of lymphocytes. Tumor cells from the majority of ALL patients express the marker VpreB1, a subunit of the pre–B cell receptor (pre-BCR).

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Dr. Bridget S. Wilson and Dr. Stuart S. Winter and their colleagues at the UNM Comprehensive Cancer Center have discovered a high-affinity, fully human monoclonal antibody specific for VpreB1 that kills ALL tumor cells in cell culture. Expression of this marker is limited to leukemic cells and a small subset of developing immune cells called pre-B cells. Therefore, targeting VpreB1 specifically eliminates the tumor cells, while sparing the more mature memory B cells that are essential to the immune system in combating infection.

In contrast, drugs targeting more broadly expressed markers, such as CD19, destroy not only the pre-B leukemia cells but also the more mature B cells.  Therefore, this VpreB1-targeted therapy is likely to be much safer than chemotherapy, which destroys all growing cells and has significant detrimental side effects.

“Due to its bivalent nature, the pre-BCR is a particularly novel and ideal antigen for chimeric antigen receptor T-cell (“CAR-T”) therapy,” said Dr. Wilson.  “And, since crosslinking of the pre-BCR leads to rapid endocytosis, anti-VpreB1 antibodies are ideal for drug delivery. We look forward to working with Pascal on advancing this discovery into human clinical trials.”

The UNM technology covers all VpreB1-targeted therapeutics such as antibody-drug conjugates and CAR-T therapy. Pascal will also work with UNM to develop a diagnostic screen to determine which patients will best respond to therapy targeting VpreB1.

“We are very pleased to acquire this novel technology from UNM, and we look forward to working closely with Drs. Wilson and Winter,” said Dr. Patrick Gray, CEO of Pascal. “Fortunately, most patients with this devastating disease can be cured with standard chemotherapy. However, those that fail chemotherapy usually have poor outcomes, and we believe VpreB1 therapy has great potential to treat these patients.

“In addition, young patients that receive chemotherapy often develop other cancers as they mature, so a more targeted therapy focused on VpreB1 may prevent future serious complications.”

“This innovation involves a less-toxic cancer therapy that has the potential to improve quality of life and decrease mortality rates in leukemia patients,” said Lisa Kuuttila, CEO & Chief Economic Development Officer of STC. “We feel very fortunate to be partnering with Pascal Biosciences to bring this technology to market. This exclusive option agreement grants Pascal six months to license the UNM technology, and this option may be extended by an additional twelve months.

To learn more, visit Pascal BioSciences or STC.UNM.