CellaxTORONTO, ON (November 13, 2012) — The Ontario Institute for Cancer Research (OICR) and MaRS Innovation (MI) today announced $1.5 million in funding from OICR over three years to further develop Cellax, a nanoparticle drug that could offer an alternative to chemotherapy with fewer side effects.

“Cellax is promising because it provides a more targeted strategy for treating tumours, killing tumour cells while minimizing the effect on healthy tissue,” said Dr. Rima Al-awar, director, OICR’s Medicinal Chemistry Platform. “OICR is proud to invest in a technology that has such potential to one day improve quality of life for cancer patients.”

Cellax, invented by Dr. Shyh-Dar Li and his research team in OICR’s Medicinal Chemistry Platform group, is a drug-polymer conjugate based on Dr. Li’s proprietary NanoCMC™ technology. These polymers self-assemble into defined nanoparticles and, when injected, selectively accumulate in tumours. Because of this property, the drug is released where it is most needed, increasing therapeutic benefits and reducing the side effects associated with conventional chemotherapy.

With the new funding, the Cellax team will conduct the pre-clinical manufacturing and toxicology studies necessary to bring Cellax to a clinical trial in cancer patients.

“Tumours are by nature more permeable to nano-sized molecules than normal tissue,” says Li. “We are developing Cellax to exploit this weakness. We hope to use the NanoCMC platform to deliver drugs that will build up only in tumours. This would spare patients the side effects associated with less targeted treatments, which damage healthy cells as well as tumours.”

Mark Ernsting and Shyh-Dar Li

Drs. Mark Ernsting (left) and Shyh-Dar Li, inventors of Cellax™ at the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research (OICR).

Cellax, which is made from biocompatible components, is stable in storage and outperforms conventional chemotherapy in pre-clinical models of human tumours.

OICR is supporting the Cellax project through its Intellectual Property Development and Commercialization (IPDC) Fund, which was established to bridge the gap in the commercialization process between public funding agencies and private investors. All IPDC candidate projects are rigorously reviewed by external subject-specific experts in business and technology.

MaRS Innovation provided the Cellax project with early intellectual property protection and sourced $175,000 in proof of concept funding. MI continues to collaborate with the Cellax team and OICR to pursue additional funding, provide business development services and market analysis.

“MaRS Innovation provided the Cellax project with early-stage funding along with business development and management through our high-touch, embedded model,” said Dr. Raphael Hofstein, president and CEO of MaRS Innovation. “MI continues to lead Cellax’s commercialization strategy. We believe Cellax meets a clear clinical need within the multibillion-dollar Taxane market, and we anticipate that Cellax will emerge as a significant new player.”

See the Cellax technology license profile in MaRS Innovation’s portfolio for additional background on this project.

The Ontario Institute for Cancer Research

Ontario Institute for Cancer Research logo

OICR is an innovative cancer research and development institute dedicated to prevention, early detection, diagnosis and treatment of cancer. The Institute is an independent, not-for-profit corporation, supported by the Government of Ontario. The annual budget for OICR, its research partners and collaborators exceeds $150 million. This supports more than 1,600 investigators, clinician scientists, research staff and trainees located at its headquarters and in research institutes and academia across the Province of Ontario. It has research hubs in Hamilton, Kingston, London, Ottawa, Thunder Bay and Toronto. OICR has key research efforts underway in small molecules, biologics, stem cells, imaging, genomics, informatics and bio-computing.

MaRS Innovation

MaRS Innovation logoMaRS Innovation (MI) is the commercialization agent for the exceptional discovery pipeline from 16 leading Ontario academic institutions. As a single-entry point to total member research activity of $1 billion in annual research and development, MI provides an easy gateway for investors and licensees who wish to access technology assets in Ontario. Supported by the Government of Canada through the Networks of Centres of Excellence, by the Government of Ontario through the Ontario Centres of Excellence, and by its member institutions, MI is a transformational partnership that turns research strengths into real commercial opportunities. MI’s portfolio includes the most promising assets and advances commercialization into global markets through industry partnerships, licensing and company creation.

By Christopher Needles, manager, editorial services and media relations at the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research, and Elizabeth Monier-Williams, marketing and communications manager at MaRS Innovation.