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Astex Pharmaceuticals, Inc. - NASDAQ

4/20/2014, 9:41 AM ET
Quote & Analysis Breaking News StockTalk Description
Sector: Healthcare
Country: United States

We are a pharmaceutical company dedicated primarily to the discovery and development of therapies to treat patients with cancer. Historically we acquired products that were developed by other companies and applied additional developmental effort to expand sales or advance these products clinically towards potential approval for marketing. In 2006, Dacogen® (decitabine) for Injection received approval for marketing in the United States, Nipent® and our commercial infrastructure was sold, and we acquired a discovery and development company to internally discover and develop our own products. These changes were implemented to mitigate the escalating risk of competitive in-licensing and maximize the return on both existing resources and our incoming royalty and milestone revenue.

Our new drug application ("NDA") for Dacogen was approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration ("FDA") in May 2006 for the treatment of patients with myelodysplastic syndromes ("MDS"). In August 2004, we had executed an agreement granting MGI PHARMA Inc.

("MGI") exclusive worldwide rights to the development, manufacture, commercialization and distribution of Dacogen. In July 2006, MGI executed an agreement to sublicense Dacogen to Janssen- Cilag GmbH, a Johnson & Johnson company, granting exclusive development and commercialization rights in all territories outside North America. Janssen-Cilag companies are responsible for conducting regulatory and commercial activities related to Dacogen in all territories outside North America, while MGI retains all commercialization rights and responsibility for all activities in the United States, Canada and Mexico. MGI was acquired by Eisai Corporation of North America in January 2008.

Our current primary developmental efforts revolve around the products progressing out of our acquisition of Montigen Pharmaceuticals, Inc. ("Montigen"), a small-molecule drug discovery company, in April 2006. We initiated Phase I in-human clinical trials in June 2007 and initiated Phase Ib clinical trials in late 2007 for the first Montigen product, MP-470, a DNA repair suppressor. In November 2008, we received clearance to proceed with clinical trials for a second internally developed product, SGI-1776, a PIM kinase inhibitor.


We are a pharmaceutical company dedicated to the discovery and development of therapies to treat patients with cancer. Our founding strategy was to acquire rights to late stage clinical products and commercialize these products by executing selective developmental and commercialization strategies that might allow these products to come into the market and be utilized by the widest possible patient populations. The competition for late-stage compounds that can be obtained through licensure or acquisition, that have shown initial efficacy in humans, has increased significantly with most major pharmaceutical companies taking positions in this market. The acquisition of Montigen mitigates the competitive risk of in-licensure and may allow us to out-license selective products to our licensing competitors or other pharmaceutical companies. Our primary objective is to become a leading developer and seller of therapies for patients suffering from cancer. Key elements of our strategy include the following:

Discover and advance into clinical trials at least one product about every twelve months. Our drug discovery group has been optimizing our proprietary process called CLIMB™ that allows our chemists and biologists to model difficult or previously unknown cancer targets for computerized drug creation and development. The flexibility and relatively low cost of both human and developmental capital for this type of discovery and development has allowed us to transition from being just a licensee to becoming a potential licensor.

Focus on drug targets that are difficult to screen by traditional methods. Most established pharmaceutical companies use some version of a high through-put screening. However, this methodology does not work well for a wide variety of complex targets. Our modeling process has demonstrated an ability to create lead candidates for these complex targets, including protein-to-protein interaction targets that might be disrupted by small molecules to be used as potential therapeutics.

Capitalize on our existing clinical expertise and regulatory development to maximize the commercial value of our products. Computer and animal models are only modestly predictive of how a product might work in humans. We have acquired significant expertise at planning, managing, and filing clinical data in both the United States and Europe. Proving the concept that a specific drug will translate into an approvable, commercially viable product in humans is a difficult task. Some drug candidates demonstrate this "proof of concept" very early in non-clinical development, while other drug candidates might need to be compared clinically to existing therapies to achieve such a proof of concept. Typically this proof of concept comes in Phase II trials where it is demonstrated that a drug candidate can destroy tumors in specific diseases. As product candidates move from non-clinical into Phase I and Phase II clinical studies, the potential value of the drug candidates should increase as the proof of concept is achieved. Historically, products that are in Phase II trials command a higher in-licensing

value than products that are still in Phase I trials. We believe our clinical and regulatory expertise facilitates efficient use of our resources to achieve appropriate proof of concept.

CLIMB Discovery Process

Traditional drug discovery processes may require five or more years before presenting a candidate suitable for the clinic. This lengthy timeline leads to high research and development costs. Utilizing our CLIMB platform, we have effectively streamlined the discovery and lead optimization process in order to get potentially life-saving therapeutics to the clinical testing stage of development faster and at a lower cost. CLIMB is SuperGen's approach to small molecule drug discovery, which merges the rapid screening of compound libraries with computational chemistry and systems biology techniques to identify drug leads that bind to target proteins.

CLIMB is an iterative and evolving process, incorporating techniques from computational design to laboratory bench biology and chemistry, to yield targeted therapeutics for use in the clinic. In traditional small molecule screening, very large physical libraries of millions of compounds may be created and screened in order to identify the few that interact selectively with a disease-related protein target. This approach has worked fairly well for simple or very well characterized targets, but is very time and cost intensive. Since CLIMB works with a virtual library of compounds and compound fragments to screen against target models, we can screen up to three million virtual compounds per day against very complex targets.

CLIMB has been used to create models and identify products that have exhibited considerable activity while physically screening as few as several hundred rationally-selected compounds. This reduces the time from target identification to clinical candidate by several years, and decreases the cost of drug development. As part of CLIMB, our software development team is actively involved in the creation of algorithms to integrate computation, biochemistry, medicinal chemistry and systems biology to improve the predictive properties of our models and streamline the drug discovery process even further.

MP-470 is a multi-targeted Tyrosine Kinase Inhibitor that is specific for mutant forms of c-kit, PDGFRa, and FLT3. These protein kinase targets are involved in the growth and proliferation of cancer cells. MP-470 is also a suppressor of Rad51, a DNA repair protein which is involved in resistance to a variety of chemotherapy agents and radiation. We submitted an Investigational New Drug Application ("IND") to the FDA in March 2007, and initiated a first-in-human Phase I single agent MP-470 trial in patients with refractory solid tumors and lymphomas in June 2007. The goal of this Phase I trial is to establish the safety and toxicity of MP-470 and define a dose to take into Phase II studies. A second multi-arm Phase Ib trial of MP-470 in combination with a variety of chemotherapy regimens was also initiated in 2007. The goal of this study is to establish the safety and dose of MP-470 in combination with standard-of-care regimens used in cancer patients. In 2008, these studies have continued, and several patients have reported disease stabilization or response while on the Phase Ib study, specifically in combination with platinum-based therapies. While this trial continues, we are currently investigating novel means of formulating MP-470, so as to increase exposure after oral dosing.

SGI-1776—Pim Kinase Inhibitor

Pim kinases are proteins that play a pivotal survival role in cancer cells. Over-expression of Pim kinases in cells prevents programmed cell death that normally occurs when cells malfunction and can lead to unchecked cell propagation, or cancer. Our Pim kinase inhibitor, SGI-1776, is a novel, orally administered, small molecule anticancer compound that effectively blocks the pro-survival activity of Pim kinases, allowing these potentially malignant cells to self-abort. Our IND for SGI-1776 received clearance from the FDA in November 2008, and we are initiating a Phase I clinical trial to evaluate the

safety, tolerability and pharmacokinetic profile of SGI-1776. The first in human clinical trial program will enroll patients with solid tumors with specific emphasis on hormone refractory prostate cancer and refractory non-Hodgkin's lymphomas. These tumor types have been reported to over-express the Pim kinase family of proteins at a high frequency. Over-expression of Pim-1 kinase has been shown to be a marker of poor prognosis in these tumors. A second Phase I/II study is being planned in patients with refractory leukemias in which Pim kinases are also over-expressed, and correlated with poor prognosis and drug resistance.

MP-529—Aurora A Kinase Inhibitor

The ability of cancer cells to rapidly divide weighs heavily on the functional machinery of cell division, such as the centrosome and spindle apparatus. If this machinery is rendered nonfunctional, the cancer cells cannot proliferate. Aurora A kinase is a protein that regulates the organization of this cell division machinery. Our Aurora kinase inhibitor, MP-529, was designed to block the action of Aurora A kinase, thus disrupting the machinery of cell division vital for cancer survival.

In October 2007 we held a pre-IND meeting with the FDA regarding MP-529. Agreement was reached on key elements of the development plan and recommendations for further refinement and later implementation in our program were discussed. The IND submission and the clinical program have been deferred pending final agreement with a partner on the development program.

SGI-110 (Formerly S-110)—DNMT1 Inhibitor

In normal cells, silencing of unnecessary genes is commonly carried out by DNA methylation through the action of DNA Methyltransferase enzymes. However, this machinery can be usurped during the process of tumorigenesis, resulting in the inactivation of tumor suppressor genes and ultimately cancer. Inhibition of DNMT-1 activity in cancer cells causes the suppressed genes to become unmethylated and re-expressed. These re-expressed tumor suppressor genes interfere with the cancer cells proliferative pathways and lead to cell death. We have developed a compound called SGI-110 which targets and blocks the mechanism by which methylation occurs, thus allowing re-expression of tumor suppressor genes in tumors. SGI-110 is currently in the pre-clinical development stage.

SGI-1252—JAK2 Inhibitor

Janus kinases (JAK) are a family of non-receptor intracellular tyrosine kinases that transduce signaling from type I and II cytokine receptors, which possess no catalytic kinase activity, to the signal transducers and activators of transcription (STAT) proteins which translocate into the nucleus to initiate the growth and differentiation programs associated with the various receptor cytokine complexes. The JAK/STAT pathways play an important role in a diverse array of cellular processes, including cell survival, proliferation, differentiation and apoptosis. Activation of JAK kinases through mutation or aberrant signaling has been associated with disease progression in immune disorders, myeloproliferative disorders, and cancers. SGI-1252 is a potent and novel inhibitor of the JAK2 kinase that we have designed to modulate the JAK/STAT pathway in cancer cells. SGI-1252 is currently in the pre-clinical development stage.

Products Sublicensed or Sold


In September 2004, we executed an agreement granting MGI exclusive worldwide rights to the development, manufacture, commercialization and distribution of Dacogen. Under the terms of the agreement, MGI made a $40.0 million equity investment in us and agreed to pay up to $45.0 million in specific regulatory and commercialization milestones. To date, we have received $32.5 million of these

milestones. The Dacogen license has also created for us a royalty income stream on worldwide net sales starting at 20% and escalating to a maximum of 30%.

In July 2006, MGI executed an agreement to sublicense Dacogen to Janssen-Cilag, a Johnson & Johnson company, granting exclusive development and commercialization rights in all territories outside North America. In accordance with our license agreement with MGI, we are entitled to receive 50% of any payments MGI receives as a result of any sublicenses. We received $5.0 million, or 50% of the $10 million upfront payment MGI received, and, as a result of both the original agreement with MGI and this sublicense with Janssen-Cilag, we may receive up to $17.5 million in future milestone payments as they are achieved for Dacogen globally. Janssen-Cilag will be responsible for conducting regulatory and commercial activities related to Dacogen in all territories outside North America, while MGI retains all commercialization rights and responsibility for all activities in the United States, Canada and Mexico. MGI was acquired by Eisai Corporation of North America in January 2008.


We acquired Nipent from the Parke-Davis division of the Warner-Lambert Company (Pfizer) in 1996 and the remaining European rights in February 2004. We sold Nipent in the United States and the European Union ("EU") for the treatment of hairy cell leukemia, a type of B-lymphocytic leukemia, which was our principal source of revenue from 1997-2006. We sold the North American rights to Nipent to Mayne Pharma ("Mayne") in August 2006, and sold the remaining worldwide rights to Nipent to Mayne in April 2007. Mayne was acquired by Hospira, Inc. in February 2007.

Non-Core Products and Product Candidates

The following products, technology and developmental opportunities have been identified and deemed as not critical to our future success. We are working to further define and realize the value of each, which may include selling, out-licensing, or finding marketing opportunities and/or partners for these products. However, the present economic environment may make it harder for us to realize any value from these non-core products.

Orathecin. Orathecin is an oral chemotherapy compound in the camptothecin class that we licensed from the Stehlin Foundation for Cancer Research ("Stehlin") in 1997. Orathecin is a second-generation topoisomerase I inhibitor that causes single-strand breaks in the DNA of rapidly dividing tumor cells. Based on our developmental program and clinical trial results, we believe that Orathecin may have significant advantages over many existing anti-cancer drugs, including efficacy, side effect profile and oral dosing. Orathecin has been tested in 46 clinical trials in 17 tumor types and 7 hematologic malignancies in over 2,800 patients. Orathecin received orphan drug designation for pancreatic cancer in both the United States and Europe. Similar marketing exclusivity is available in Japan.

Stehlin continues to hold the title to all inventions and other intellectual property made solely by employees or consultants of Stehlin with respect to Orathecin, and we hold the title to all inventions and other intellectual property made solely by our employees or consultants in connection with activities under the agreement. Title to all inventions and other intellectual property made jointly by employees or consultants of the parties in connection with the agreement are jointly owned by the parties. In the event Stehlin elects to license any product (other than the Orathecin products) for human medicinal purposes for any uses that include pancreatic cancer or antineoplastic use, we have the right of first refusal to obtain from Stehlin a license under patents owned or controlled by Stehlin to market such products.

Unless terminated sooner as provided in the agreement, the agreement will continue in full force and effect on a country-by-country and licensed product-by-licensed product basis until there are no remaining royalty payment obligations in a country, at which time the agreement will terminate in its entirety in such country. We will continue to have a perpetual, non-exclusive, royalty-free license, with the right to grant sublicenses, to make, import, use, sell, offer for sale and otherwise distribute and exploit the Orathecin products for human medicinal purposes in such country. We may terminate the agreement with respect to any country with 60 days written notice to Stehlin. In addition, if either party materially breaches the agreement, the other party will have certain termination rights. Further, either party may terminate the agreement if the other becomes the subject of a voluntary or involuntary petition in bankruptcy or any proceeding relating to insolvency, receivership or liquidation for the benefit of creditors, if that petition or proceeding is not dismissed with prejudice within 60 days after filing.

Mitozytrex. Mitozytrex (mitomycin for injection), which is a formulation of generic mitomycin, was approved by the FDA in November 2002 for use in the therapy of disseminated adenocarcinoma of the stomach or pancreas in proven combinations with other approved chemotherapeutic agents and as palliative treatment when other modalities have failed. We cannot promote Mitozytrex as providing any injection site ulceration protection, nor can we promote any commercially viable increased stability, solubility or shelf life extension, as compared to generic mitomycin. We must develop and submit additional data to the FDA in NDA supplements and receive FDA approval for additional claims. We are currently exploring marketing opportunities and/or marketing partners for Mitozytrex.

Partaject Drug Delivery Technology. Partaject drug delivery technology is a drug delivery system that accommodates poorly water-soluble and water-insoluble compounds by encapsulating them with a fatty layer, known as a phospholipid. The Partaject technology involves coating particles of a drug that are of submicron or near micron size with a membrane-forming phospholipid layer, thereby permitting the creation of a suspension of the drug rather than a solution, and its intravenous injection without the use of potentially toxic solubilizing agents. As a result, we believe the Partaject technology may reduce toxicity created by other injectable forms of delivery mechanisms and potentially increase efficacy by facilitating delivery of compounds whose prior intravenous delivery was impractical because of solubility-related formulation difficulties.

Busulfan is currently marketed in an oral dosage form by GlaxoSmithKline for the palliative treatment of chronic myelogenous leukemia. It is used "off-label" as a bone marrow ablating agent prior to bone marrow transplants. We completed a Phase I clinical trial of Partaject busulfan at both Johns Hopkins Oncology Center and Duke University Medical Center. A Phase I clinical trial in pediatric bone marrow ablation has been completed in 35 patients at St. Jude's Children's Hospital in Memphis.

Oral Prodrug Delivery Technology-CZ 112. Oral prodrug delivery technology involves administering an inactive compound, known as a prodrug, which is absorbed in the digestive tract and is converted enzymatically to an active agent in the liver. Oral prodrug delivery technology could potentially enable the oral delivery of drugs that are otherwise only used in an intravenous formulation. The resulting active compounds may pass through the systemic circulation and act at peripheral sites. We applied the oral prodrug delivery technology to compounds selected for their potential either to serve as oral delivery agents for systemically active chemotherapeutic or radio sensitizing drugs previously available only in intravenous form. CZ 112 is an oral prodrug for Orathecin we licensed from Stehlin in November 1999 after initial Phase I testing.

Cremophor-Free Paclitaxel. In January and October 2000, we were issued two United States patents for a cremophor-free formulation of paclitaxel. We were issued a third patent for an oral formulation in November 2001. These patents may have important clinical and strategic implications as such a formulation obviates the need for pre-medication, which is currently required with the use of paclitaxel. Such lack of pre-medication and an oral formulation might prove to be major competitive advantages in the paclitaxel market.

Avicine. In July 2000, we acquired the sales and marketing rights in the United States to Avicine from AVI BioPharma, Inc. ("AVI"). Avicine is a therapeutic cancer vaccine and has completed Phase II clinical trials for colorectal and pancreatic cancer.

VEGF (Anti-Angiogenesis). In February 2001, we licensed from Peregrine Pharmaceuticals (formerly known as Techniclone Corp.) a platform drug-targeting technology known as Vascular Targeting Agent ("VTA"). The licensed technology is related to Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor ("VEGF"). The VTA technology is a proprietary platform designed to specifically target a tumor's blood supply and subsequently destroy the tumor with various attached therapeutic agents. We sublicensed this technology to Targa Therapeutics Corp. ("Targa") in 2006.

PZG. PZG is a product for treatment of Type II, or adult-onset, diabetes. Animal studies and early clinical studies of PZG suggest that it may help to control the blood sugar and lipid abnormalities of diabetes, and may have utility in treating a lipid disorder unrelated to diabetes called hypertriglyceridemia, obesity, hypertension and the uremia of renal failure. We initiated a small, well-defined and controlled Phase II study to characterize the hypoglycemic and lipid-lowering effects of PZG in Type II diabetes.

AM454. AM 454 is a DHEA phosphocholine derivative which may have utility in obesity and diabetes.

Proprietary Formulation Technology. We have developed several applications for our proprietary formulation technology, a platform technology that employs the use of an inert chemical excipient, cyclodextrin, combined with a drug. Most anti-cancer drugs are cytotoxic, and most must be administered intravenously. If a vein is missed on injection, the drug can leak to surrounding tissue, causing ulceration that sometimes requires plastic surgery to correct. Our proprietary formulation technology is designed to "shield" the drug from the injection site, thus helping to provide the patient protection from tissue ulceration. It may also increase the relative solubility of hard-to-dissolve anti-cancer drugs, hence potentially increasing its stability or shelf life. Each of these benefits must be supported by appropriate data and approved by the FDA as part of an NDA filing. We believe that such features, if approved by the FDA, would result in our formulation products having a significant competitive advantage over their counterparts currently on the market. In March 1994, we acquired exclusive worldwide rights to the patented cyclodextrin technology used in our formulation technology from Janssen Biotech, N.V. and others.