Cellestia - a leading pioneer in modulating gene expression has received the Innosuisse Certificate
startupticker.ch | 12.03.2021 10:27
Cellestia Biotech develops therapies to control pathogenic gene expression. While its lead oncology candidate, CB-103, has advanced to phase 2 clinical trials, Cellestia is expanding a rich R&D pipeline of novel gene transcription factor inhibitors targeting oncology, autoimmune and inflammatory disorders.
Cellestia is a leading pioneer in identifying and targeting gene transcription factors (GTFs) implicated in human disease. With its lead compound CB-103, the company has successfully proven the approach's principle, getting a new mode of action first-in-class GTF-targeting drug to the clinic and demonstrating that it is well-tolerated and works for what it was designed. The scientific foundation of this success is based on ten years of academic research prior to the company's foundation, led by Raj Lehal (Chief Scientific Officer and member of the Board of Directors). In 2015, Michael Bauer joined Cellestia as CEO, complementing the academic founder team with industry and development expertise. Cellestia's unique know-how and approach to rational drug design has enabled the company to build a pipeline of novel GTF inhibitors, establishing the company in this emerging field of innovative drug development.
Cellestia's clinical-stage drug candidate, CB-103, acts as a first-in-class PPI inhibitor of the “CSL/NICD transcription complex”, the converging point and most downstream event of the NOTCH signalling cascade. The range of possible indications is caused by tumour biology. It involves both very rare cancers such as cancer of the salivary gland and a subtype of childhood leukaemia and considerable indications like specific sub-types of breast and colorectal cancer.
"There is currently no specific treatment available in the market for the treatment of CSL/NICD driven cancers, and we expect to address a significant medical need. Furthermore, only a few clinical stage R&D companies have the expertise of targeting specific proteins involved in gene transcription, having reached clinical proof of principle. Starting with CB-103, we have understood how to expand the approach to other targets as we can control pathogenic gene expression by targeting specific gene transcription factors", explained Michael Bauer, CEO of Cellestia.
In October last year, Cellestia announced positive results from its phase 1 clinical study of CB-103, demonstrating its superiority as the first treatment for cancer that can effectively and safely control oncogenic NOTCH pathway activation. The company is currently starting various Phase 2 trials. Besides CB-103, Cellestia is advancing an emerging pipeline of a new mode of action GTFs. The next series of compounds to enter IND-enabling studies during 2021 are geared towards oncology and indications in autoimmune and inflammatory disorders. Animal in-vivo proof of concept for several new targets has been achieved. Cellestia is expecting essential and exciting new data in the first half of this year.
Composing the team as a key challenge
Starting a biotech company originating from an academic research project brings the usual challenges like establishing a license agreement with the academic institution, managing the cultural change moving from academic research into clinical development, raising the required funds to run the program etc. In particular, when driving true innovation like a drug with a new mode of action, filing for new IP and setting up the organisation on a global level is always a challenge. However, according to Bauer, the most difficult challenge was finding the right team for diverse tasks. "There are plenty of high-calibre specialists, but the challenge is to find the right team members, who share the passion for the goal, have the entrepreneurial-mindset, a high degree of self-motivation, and the ambition and vision to walk a new path nobody has stepped on before. Today we have a strong, highly motivated and experienced management team on board to lead and grow the company successfully," concludes Bauer.
Today, Cellestia has 16 employees - 11 at the Basel Technologiepark Basel headquarters focusing on the development and 5 in Lausanne at Biopôle/StartLab concentrating on research. Cellestia has started clinical development originally in Europe (Switzerland and Spain). The trial is now expanded to the USA, with leading clinics engaging. Finally, as the most recent development, Cellestia is establishing clinical operations in China, Taiwan and South Korea.
To date, Cellestia has attracted CHF 50 million in private equity investments. To advance its pipeline's development, the company is preparing subsequent financing round to further intensify activities during 2021.
Continuous support from Innosuisse
Innosuisse has supported Cellestia Biotech since joining the Innosuisse Coaching Program three years ago, providing the team with consultation and coaching to advance its development. After completing the recent review by Innosuisse, the company received the Innosuisse Certificate, demonstrating its readiness for sustainable growth. Since the company plans to raise additional capital, the certificate is expected to be a valuable independent reference during discussions with potential investors, particularly in Asian markets.
Innosuisse has also supported three research-based innovation projects with grants. The most recent grant obtained in December 2020 will help advance the newly launched drug discovery program to target a GTF called MYB using state of the art structural biology approaches, computer-aided drug design and advanced medicinal chemistry. The two-year program runs in collaboration with Professor Vincent Zoete from the Department of Oncology UNIL CHUV, Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research, Lausanne and the SIB Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics.
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