Monday, November 14, 2016

$10 Million 'Eat Me' Award: California Stem Cell Agency to Firm Called Forty Seven

The California stem cell agency is set this week to award $10 million to a Menlo Park firm to help finance a clinical trial for a therapy for colon cancer, which is the second leading cause of cancer death in this country.

The cash will go to Forty Seven, Inc., an enterprise using an immune system, "eat me" technology developed at Stanford University by stem cell scientist Irv Weissman. The firm is adding $6.8 million of its own cash to the project. Weissman has received $30 million over the years from the state agency.

The application to help with an early stage clinical trial was unanimously approved by the agency's scientific reviewers during a closed-door meeting last month. The full board will ratify the action at its telephonic meeting this Thursday. 

The agency, formally known as the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine(CIRM), has almost never overturned a positive decision by its reviewers.

The $3 billion agency does not release the names of successful applicants prior to board action. Forty Seven was identified through the use of public records.

According to a federal Web site,
"This trial will evaluate Hu5F9-G4 in combination with cetuximab. Hu5F9-G4 is a monoclonal antibody which is designed to block a protein called CD47, which is widely expressed on human cancer cells. Blocking CD47 with Hu5F9-G4 may enable the body's immune system to find and destroy the cancer cells. Cetuximab is a monoclonal antibody drug that is used for treatment of certain types of colorectal cancer as well as head and neck cancer."
The idea is to override a tumor's "don't-eat-me" signal and instead trigger the body's "eat-me" response.

California's scientific reviewers expressed high praise for the project. However, they also said,
"The design of the trial itself is fine, but the decision-making process is sub-optimal. It is critical to include clear go/no go criteria for the second phase of the trial and for the data to be evaluated by an independent, objective third party for a decision as it is unclear what toxicities are expected given the proposed new mechanism of action and use of a combination therapy." 
Forty Seven announced last February that it is backed by $75 million from a variety of partners including Google. Others in the venture capital group are Lightspeed Venture Partners, Sutter Hill Ventures (the two leaders on the financing) and Clarus Ventures.

In August, Karen Tkach wrote in BioCentury:
"With companies lining up to block CD47 for cancer, the cell surface protein is emerging as one of the top new targets in oncology. But the list of suitors could be about to get a lot longer as the target could have uses in a much broader range of indications, according to two studies from Stanford University that extend its prospects to cardiovascular disease and transplant biology, and hint at roles in several more diseases."
According to the clinical trial information on a federal Web site, Forty Seven will have clinical trial locations in Grand Rapids, Mich.; San Antonio, Texas, and Nashville, Tenn.  The California stem cell agency is limited to spending its award for work done in California. 

The federal information has conflicting indications on whether patients are currently being recruited for enrollment in the trial.

(In response to a query following publication of this item, Mark Chao, a co-founder and medical
Mark Chao, Stanford photo
director of Forty Seven and co-PI on the trial, said,
"We have been excited about the positive reviews by the CIRM committee and hope to hear good news on Thursday. Thank you for sending this article. With regards to initiating California clinical sites on the trial, this is a very big point of emphasis for us, in particular with CIRM’s mission and are currently working to activate two sites in California (Stanford University and UCLA) for the trial. One of our goals are to bring this therapy to patients within California and have designed our trials with this in mind. Please let us know if there are any further questions we can address. We look forward to a long relationship with CIRM.")
The chair of the study is Chris Takimoto of Forty Seven. The CIRM application number is CLIN2 -09577.

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