Technology Showcase leads to a model partnership

The 2020 Technology Showcase was Maurice Hampton’s second time at the annual event, but his first opportunity to announce a collaboration that wouldn’t have been possible without it.  

A screenshot of a virtual meeting with a man talking and smaller videos of participants at the top of his video stream

Hampton is the executive chairman and chief executive officer of early-stage biopharmaceutical company Telesis Therapeutics. In 2019, he drove three hours from Philadelphia to Frederick to attend the Technology Showcase, co-sponsored by the National Cancer Institute’s Technology Center and the Frederick National Laboratory (FNL) for Cancer Research.  

It was a long drive, but ultimately worth it. He returned to this year’s virtual event, this time as a panelist, to announce a strategic collaboration that got its start at the 2019 showcase. 

Hampton’s company recently signed a contractor Collaborative Research and Development Agreement (cCRADA) with the national laboratory. His team is collaborating with Serguei Kozlov, Ph.D., a team leader at FNL’s Center for Advanced Preclinical Research. 

Kozlov joined Hampton on the 2020 panel entitled, “Partnering with the NCI and FNL to Advance Innovation to Benefit Your Pipeline and Your Bottom Line,” on Sept. 9. 

A potential pancreatic cancer treatment 

FNL’s Center for Advanced Preclinical Research specializes in conducting informative preclinical studies to support the development of novel therapeutic and diagnostic approaches for human cancers. The center uses genetically engineered mouse models, genetically engineered mouse-derived allograft models, or patient-derived mouse xenografts for many cancer types. 

Kozlov explained the center is also a highly collaborative group that considers partnerships like this an essential component of its mission.  

“We have quite a large portfolio of outside interaction and partnership agreements,” Kozlov said during the panel. “So we are quite flexible, and speak the partnership language very fluently.” 

For the collaboration, the center will perform in vitro and in vivo preclinical testing on Telesis Therapeutics’ novel chemical compound. The proof of concept for the compound was previously established in other cancer models—breast, lung, and skin—but the company now wants to investigate it as a treatment for pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC), the most common pancreatic cancer type and one of the most lethal malignancies with a five-year relative survival rate of just 9%, based on the National Cancer Institute’s SEER data from 2009–2015. 

Many factors contribute to the lethality of PDAC, but one particular challenge is that PDAC cells exhibit metabolic changes that make them uniquely adapted to fueling cancerous growth. There is evidence that interfering with PDAC-specific metabolic pathways may present a therapeutic opportunity. The Telesis Therapeutics compound has anti-metabolic properties, which is why the national laboratory is interested in testing it.  

For this collaboration, the Center for Advanced Preclinical Research will use its unique preclinical tools to assess the compound’s anti-cancer features in cell culture and live animal cancer model systems in two phases.  

The first phase will include primary PDAC cells studies and in vivo pharmacokinetic and toxicity studies.  

If successful, the investigators plan to extend the cCRADA to assess anti-tumor efficacy in disease-relevant models and to investigate molecular pathways in PDAC tumors treated with the compound. The center’s unique expertise in preclinical models enables them to comprehensively interrogate the Telesis Therapeutics compound, from its pharmacological properties to mechanism of action, in clinically relevant experimental platforms. The ultimate objective is to prepare the compound for translation into the cancer clinic. 

A model partnership 

During the panel, Hampton explained the center’s experience and focus on reproducibility was critical to his desire to work with the national laboratory.  

“We wanted credible and experienced scientists doing this work,” Hampton said. “We wanted someone as knowledgeable and as passionate about the work as we were.”  

And he found those passionate scientists through the Technology Showcase.  

“I’m looking forward to getting some great work done over there and getting this moving,” Hampton said. “We are excited about it.”  

“The feeling is definitely mutual,” Kozlov said, “I really believe that our partnership, in addition to moving toward clinical translation, will set the stage for future collaborative interactions and will be considered a model partnership for many other organizations to come onboard the Frederick National Laboratory.”