Publication date: 28/02/2018
Convert Pharmaceuticals has been granted a total of EUR 13,6 million in equity and non-dilutive funding by investors Droia Oncology Ventures, Meusinvest and Spinventure, with non-dilutive support by the Walloon region and the European Eurostars program. The funds will be used to prepare and conduct initial clinical studies with Convert’s lead anti-cancer drug, which may bring a novel approach to tackling certain aggressive and resistant tumors.
Convert was co-founded by Droia, Prof. Dr. Philippe Lambin (University of Maastricht), Paul Tulcinsky, and Nicolas Geûens. The company’s lead drug candidate is designed to leverage tumor hypoxia, which occurs wherever tumor cells are deprived of oxygen. Tumor hypoxia promotes the development of aggressive tumors, which are resistant to chemo-, immuno-, and radiotherapy, and is strongly associated with poor clinical outcome. Convert’s lead drug is a Hypoxia-Activated Prodrug (HAP), designed as a nitroaromatic analogue with highly optimized drug-like properties. Successful in vitro and in vivo proof of concept studies have confirmed the outstanding anti-cancer potential of this HAP.
The candidate drug was licensed from one of the world’s most renowned research labs in the field of hypoxia-selective prodrugs: the University of Auckland, New Zealand.
Prof. Dr. Philippe Lambin (Chief Scientific Advisor of Convert, professor at Maastricht University) comments: “Convert was founded to develop next-generation tumor-microenvironment modulated prodrugs. These prodrugs are inactive by themselves, but transform into potent anti-cancer agents when entering tumors. Many tumors contain areas that are insufficiently oxygenated. These areas are hard to treat with radio-, chemo- and immunotherapies. However, Convert’s lead drug becomes active in these areas and eradicates them very efficiently.”
Janwillem Naesens (Managing Partner at Droia, acting CEO of Convert) adds: “Thanks to the enthusiastic support of the investors, the Walloon region and the European Union, Convert now has the critical resources to achieve its clinical development goals. We are currently completing the team, which is already working hard on bringing the first drug to cancer patients. In the meantime we are evaluating other drug candidates, based on Convert’s innovative insights in both the tumor-microenvironment and specific biomarkers as well as in the chemical design of prodrugs. This investment fits perfectly within the core of Droia’s investment strategy, combining original science, professional translation and a long-term company building approach.”
Marc Foidart (Deputy General Manager of Meusinvest) concludes: “We are delighted to welcome Convert Pharmaceuticals in our ecosystem. Backed by a professional and very selective VC such as Droia, relying on an outstanding science, and located close to the new Integrated Oncological Centre of the University Hospital, Convert really has all the ingredients to achieve its scientific, clinical and economic huge potential."
Convert Pharmaceuticals, headquartered in Liège, Belgium, develops tumor-microenvironment modulated prodrugs. It’s lead drug candidate, CP-506, is a hypoxia-activated cytotoxin designed by Prof. A. Patterson and Prof. J. Smaill from the University of Auckland, New Zealand. The drug improves the activity, specificity and safety relative to older hypoxia-activated prodrugs. Tumor sensitivity to CP-506 is not only driven by hypoxia, but is also greatly enhanced by other specific activating factors. Convert is therefore also developing advanced biomarkers that will enable an accurate selection of patients that stand to benefit the most from CP-506 treatment.
The development of CP-506 was ranked by Eurostars among the top 8% of all European projects. Convert will present more on CP-506 at the AACR annual meeting in Chicago, in April 2018.
Droia Oncology Ventures is a specialist investor, dedicated to the fight against cancer. Droia invests in promising new cancer therapies, and accelerates their progress by actively supporting young drug development companies to achieve clinical proof of concept with their lead programs. Droia has an in-house team of drug development professionals that offer hands-on support in scientific matters. Operating from Luxembourg and Belgium, Droia invests globally: its current ten portfolio companies are split equally between Europe and the US. Droia currently manages EUR 73 million, funded by 9 private investors. (www.droiagroup.com)