Building new oncology therapeutics with longevity potential

Nonagen Therapeutics draws on cancer diagnostics pedigree to develop new therapeutics that may also have longevity applications.

DISCLOSURE: Longevity.Technology (a brand of First Longevity Limited) has been contracted by the company featured in this article to support its current funding round. Qualifying investors can find out more via the Longevity.Technology investment portal.

Early stage biopharma firm Nonagen Therapeutics is developing new therapies designed to disrupt the growth of cancer by targeting the environment around it. By prohibiting the cancer from growing and thriving in its environment, the company’s approach aims to make it more susceptible to current treatment strategies.

The company is now raising a $7.5 million seed funding round to prepare its lead compound (a humanized neutralizing monoclonal antibody called NTC-001) for clinical trials.

Interestingly, NTC-001, which inhibits the key CXCL1 gene expressed by many cancer tumours, is also being explored for its potential in treatment of age-related diseases, including Alzheimer’s and Type 2 diabetes.

Longevity.Technology: While beating cancer would of course have longevity implications for the entire planet, we are particularly interested in Nonagen for the fact that its technology may also extend into targeted age-related diseases. We caught up with the company’s co-founder and CEO Dr Charles Rosser to find out more.

Rosser is an academic urologic oncologist at the renowned Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, working on molecular diagnostic and experimental therapeutics. Around ten years ago, he spun out a molecular diagnostic company to develop new approaches to detect and quantify cancers. But the company’s work in diagnostics also started to generate some new ideas and approaches around potential therapeutics and longevity.

“Work in molecular diagnostic and experimental therapeutics often go hand-in-hand,” says Rosser. “If you discover there’s something that you can use to help diagnose cancer, that same target or molecule could potentially be used to target cancer. So we had these experimental therapeutics, percolating away in our diagnostic company, and we eventually got enough momentum spin out a dedicated therapeutic company in 2020. And so Nonagen Therapeutics was born.”

Targeting the tumour microenvironment

While conducting gene expression profiling trying to come up with biomarkers for some “very aggressive tumours,” Rosser and his team observed that the CXCL1 gene played a key role in more than just the tumour.

“CXCL1 increased not only in the tumour cells, but also in the tumour microenvironment – in the myeloid cells, the blood vessel cells, the fibroblasts, the scaffolding of it,” says Rosser. “So that brought it to the top of our list of targets.”

This focus on elements beyond the tumour itself is what sets Nonagen apart from others in the cancer therapeutics space.

“Over the last five to seven years, cancer therapies have moved from chemotherapy and molecularly targeted agents towards immune-oncology agents, but there are still other key things within the microenvironment that should be taken into consideration,” says Rosser. “For example, if our good immune cells are stopped by myeloid cells, or if you’re not blocking angiogenesis (the growth of new blood vessel), then a tumour can still grow.”

Funding progress towards the clinic

Nonagen’s approach is to explore what can realistically be targeted in the tumour microenvironment that could help prevent tumours from growing.

“Our lead compound, NTC-001, not only targets tumours that express CXCL1, but it also targets angiogenesis and some of these myeloid cells that are bad for the immune system,” says Rosser. “The next compound in our pipeline targets different types of immune cells along with angiogenesis. So that’s our key differentiator – we’re not just targeting the immune system, and we’re not just targeting angiogenesis – we’re targeting the entire tumour microenvironment.”

For NTC-001, Nonagen has already successfully demonstrated suppression of tumour growth in a mouse model. The company is now raising the $7.5 million in funding it needs to take things to the next stage, which is the completion of the application to the FDA for an investigational new drug (IND).

“Our funding will allow us to ramp up production of the compound, complete the mouse studies, and do the efficacy and safety testing in large animals, all of which is required before we can go to the clinic,” says Rosser. “The rate limiting factor in all of this is the drug manufacturing. Once we secure the funding, I would expect that we can say that in 12 months we should have everything we need to submit the IND application to the FDA.”

CXCL1 and longevity

In parallel with its cancer programmes, Nonagen is also pushing forward on work looking at conditions more directly linked to longevity than cancer.

“We know that our lead target CXCL1 is overexpressed in other conditions related to longevity – it’s overexpressed in Alzheimer’s disease and in Type 2 diabetes,” says Rosser.

“So some of the funding will be used in the lab to start to test this in these non-cancer conditions. We’ve already developed a mouse model, and so now we’re going to start treating them with it to see if we block CXCL1, and if we can reduce or eliminate the effects that we see with Alzheimer’s and eventually with Type 2 diabetes as well.”

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Photograph: Nonagen