Horizon Discovery Announces World-Leading Translational Medicine & Gene-Targeting Experts on its SAB

15 Sep 2009

Horizon Discovery (Horizon) today announced the formation of its inaugural Scientific Advisory Board (SAB), a body whose collective mission is to see the broad adoption of ‘Personalized Cancer Medicine’ strategies in clinical practice.

Personalized Medicines offer great promise in delivering improved cancer therapies by targeting the underlying genetic defects that cause cancer. Fundamental cancer research is also showing these defects to be highly varied in number and distribution within patient populations, a fact that demands that novel drug development strategies and companion diagnostic technologies be deployed to ensure that the ‘right drugs’ are prescribed to the ‘right patients’. Equally important is the need to reduce the current cost ($>500m), high-attrition rates and time (15 years) associated with developing new drugs by performing more ‘targeted’ clinical trials from the outset, based solely around the patients most likely to respond.

Horizon’s mission is to support all aspects of this drug discovery paradigm by using its X-MAN™ range of genetically defined human disease models and underlying gene-engineering technology GENESIS™, to enable the early-identification and testing of genotype-selective drug candidates in rational patient-stratified clinical trials.

Horizon is also aiming to foster increased dialogue and collaboration between all the stakeholders in the drug-discovery process: from cancer researchers, Pharma/Biotech companies, diagnostics and technology developers, to clinical, regulatory and reimburser-healthcare providers; so that a ‘best practice’ in the ‘Personalised Cancer Medicine’ field is quickly defined and adopted. To lead this aim, Horizon has assembled a world-class team of translational researchers and clinical investigators who are already forging the development of Personalised Medicines and strategies around the globe.

Horizon’s SAB is chaired by Professor Alberto Bardelli, Professor of Oncological Sciences at the University of Torino School of Medicine and Director of the Laboratory of Molecular Genetics at the Institute for Cancer research and Treatment in Turin, Italy. The team of Prof Bardelli has been instrumental in showing that not all patients respond to the anti-EGFR targeted colorectal cancer drugs, Erbitux and Vectibix. By defining the genetic factors that dictate this patient resistance, Professor Bardelli has provided a roadmap for the development of novel companion diagnostic strategies that enhance patient outcomes and better conserve healthcare budgets.

Joining Professor Bardelli are: Professor Daniel Von Hoff, Physician in Chief, Senior Investigator, Director, Translational Research Division, Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen); Professor Sabine Tejpar, Professor of Digestive Oncology Unit, University Hospital Gasthuisberg; Professor Ben Ho Park, Associate Professor of Oncology at the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins University and; Dr Chris Torrance, CEO and scientific co-founder of Horizon.

Professor Daniel D. Von Hoff is a pioneer in the development of new anticancer agents, both in the clinic and in the laboratory. He and his colleagues were involved in the beginning of the development of many of the agents now used routinely, including: mitoxantrone, fludarabine, paclitaxel, docetaxel, gemcitabine, irinotecan, nelarabine, capecitabine, lapatinib and others. Dr Von Hoff is leading the way in the areas of in vitro drug sensitivity testing and patient-stratified clinical trials to individualize treatment for cancer patients. Dr Von Hoff is also the Editor in Chief of the world renowned scientific Journal: Molecular Cancer Therapeutics

Professor Sabine Tejpar is both a practicing clinician and scientific researcher who is conducting numerous clinical trials on novel targeted cancer drugs in Europe and was key player in defining sensitive and resistant patients to Erbitux and Vectibix. Dr Tejpar’s research focus is in the basic and translational study of colorectal cancer. Her main research projects involve molecular sub classification of colorectal cancer, including prognostic markers in adjuvant colorectal cancer and predictive markers for efficacy of RTK inhibition.

Professor Ben Ho Park is also working in basic and translational research; plus has an active and distinguished role in patient care that is having a dramatic effect in the search for novel ‘targeted’ and ‘personalised’ cancer treatments. Prof. Park and his colleagues recently studied the inner biochemical workings of human isogenic (X-MAN) cell-lines containing either a normal or mutant version of ‘PI3K’ and identified a novel therapeutic target called GSK3beta that is modulated by this mutant cancer gene in a significant subset of breast cancers. Dr Park then found that Lithium an already approved drug to this target and; which is currently being used to treat bi-polar disorder, also impairs the growth of human tumors containing mutant PI3K. Ben is now pioneering this ‘re-profiled’ drug into breast cancer clinical trials.

Dr Chris Torrance has a total of twelve years oncology research and development experience, including six years as a senior manager at Cambridge-based pharmaceutical company, Vernalis. His principle expertise lies is cancer cell biology and drug discovery. In this field, he has led project teams taking drug targets from inception through to hit identification, lead optimisation and into preclinical studies. Dr Torrance founded Horizon Discovery to pursue a mission that would accelerate the development of targeted cancer agents and companion diagnostics to produce better clinical outcomes for patients and; address the rapidly escalating drug-failure costs that healthcare agencies and society has to bear.

Professor Alberto Bardelli says: “Targeted therapies, along with companion diagnostics will enable cost-effective ‘personalized’ medicine to be applied in the future and Horizon is committed to accelerating and economizing all aspects of this. I am delighted to have been invited to chair a panel of such influential and actively engaged proponents of personalized medicine. In Professor’s Von Hoff, Tejpar, Park and Dr Torrance we have assembled key thought leaders in human-disease model generation, the identification of drug-resistance mechanisms and; in the design and implementation of patient-stratified clinical trials. They are, by their daily research and professional achievements, accelerating the pace at which Personalized Medicine is becoming a reality for many cancer patients”
Horizon has also appointed Professor David Russell, Professor of Medicine, Division of Hematology; Adjunct Professor of Biochemistry, University of Washington School of Medicine as a Special Member of the SAB with responsibility for leading Horizon’s future thinking in human gene-targeting. Dr Russell pioneered the use of adeno-associated virus (AAV) vectors capable of introducing precise sequence changes at any endogenous chromosomal locus. This approach has revolutionized the speed at which X-MAN cell-lines can be generated. Dr Russell will also lead the company on developing strategies for the application of AAV technology in the in-vitro stem-cell field.

The SAB will be supported in its endeavors by participating scientists from Genentech Inc., a wholly-owned member of the Roche Group, and a world-leading authority on the prospective development of targeted cancer agents. Genentech is already a strategic partner of Horizon.

Dr Darrin M Disley, Chairman of Horizon said on the appointment of the SAB “the company is honored that such experts in the field have consented to join our team. Horizons mission is first-and-foremost to deliver better clinical outcomes for cancer patients and we have found kindred spirits in Professor’s Bardelli, Von Hoff, Teijpar, Park and Russell and Genentech Inc. Horizon intends to have an impact in the delivery of an efficient, ethical and patient-centric healthcare system in our life-times; and the vision and guidance proffered by the SAB will play a key role in this”.

The first meeting of the SAB will be held on November 14th in Boston just prior to the annual EORTC congress.