A harmonious position
December 2012
by Lori Lesko  |  Email the author


PARIS—In their quest to come up with a faster, more effective method of fighting cancer, French companies Curie-Cancer and Harmonic Pharma have launched an ambitious research partnership aimed at exploring the anticancer activity of several molecules in Harmonic's portfolio, using an approach known as molecular repositioning. Harmonic Pharma came to Curie-Cancer because of the strong reputation of Institut Curie in terms of cancer in Europe, and Harmonic presented its goals and its strategy. Given that people from Curie-Cancer have a long-term experience of drug-development due to previous experience in the pharmaceutical industry, Curie-Cancer was able to suggest the relevant models that could be useful to Harmonic's drug-development.  
Harmonic's main focus is on identifying new therapeutic uses for compounds that are already on the market or at an advanced stage of development. Since these compounds have already proven to be well tolerated in humans, Harmonic says this repositioning strategy saves both time and resources compared to traditional, conventional research. New therapeutic activities in existing drugs are often discovered by chance or through an empirical approach. Harmonic Pharma's researchers have succeeded in rationalizing this process thanks to the development of original solutions for comparing molecular footprints in 3D, says Arnaud Sinan Karaboga, scientific director of Harmonic.  
"We use a proprietary database containing several thousand active principles that are selected, classified and annotated as a function of their mode of action and their therapeutic applications," Karaboga says. "Our researchers have thus been able very quickly to identify several unpatented compounds acting on a cellular membrane receptor involved in certain cancers."
The targeted biological receptor, already known for its role in facilitating the entry of the HIV virus into lymphocytes, is also involved in three of the most important stages of the development of cancer: tumor proliferation, the migration of tumor cells to other tissues and the invasion of these other tissues, which results in the formation of distant metastases (in the bone, the lungs, the brain and other areas), says Karaboga.
Damien Salauze, the director of Curie-Cancer, tells ddn, "Above and beyond the prospect of being able to bring additional therapeutic solutions to our patients in a short space of time, we welcome the opportunity of being able to assist the development of an early-stage innovative company. It is another example of how the Institut Curie's know-how and the experimental models it has developed for fundamental research meet the needs of our industrial partners."  
"The gain for Harmonic is to have access to a series of unique models," Salauze adds. "The gain for Curie-Cancer, as an academic not-for-profit foundation, is to contribute to the development of new drugs for patients. Harmonic's know-how has been successfully applied in other therapeutic areas and differentiates it from the competition in the sense that they use unique proprietary databases of molecular footprints of drugs or drug candidates."
"Harmonic Pharma's know-how speeds up the process of making drugs available to patients. That is why partnering with the Institut Curie, experts in our therapeutic targeted fields, seemed an obvious option for our cancer project," says Michel Souchet, Harmonic Pharma's CEO. "For a young, innovative firm like ours, partnering with a world-leading center like the Institut Curie gives us access to experimental models, fundamental knowledge and expertise related to the development of cancer.
"Our unconventional approach improves outcomes in several phases of the drug discovery and development process," Souchet continues. "Thus, we are keen to investigate compounds of interest to your company or institution since our solutions have the capacity to address different aspects of leveraging the value of existing molecules, preclinical compounds, safe clinical candidates and drugs."  
To validate the initial observations made in in-vitro cellular models, Curie-Cancer gave Harmonic access to animal models that are highly representative of cancer in humans, as well as to the know-how of its researchers with a deep understanding of metastatic processes. Institut Curie's extensive collection of mice xenografted with tumors taken from human patients on the operating table, which are therefore representative of the tumors seen in man, is proving an especially valuable tool for therapeutic development.  
"By studying the results that Harmonic Pharma has already obtained in vitro, and taking account of the role of the receptor of interest in these types of cancer, we rapidly turned towards three types of model for which we have a wide variety of tumors and considerable experience—namely breast cancer, lung cancer and eye cancer," states Didier Decaudin, who runs the Institut Curie's preclinical investigation laboratory.  
The next step "will be to better understand the mode of action (in oncology) of these candidate-drugs, which will probably require the use of other technical platforms from Curie-Cancer," he says. "Then come the clinical trials."
The ultimate goal of the collaboration "is to provide patients with new, more effective or safer drugs against—at least some types of— cancer," Salauze says.  
The research agreement involves both applied research in the development of products that could be rapidly commercialized and fundamental research that will help improve understanding of the receptor's role in breast, lung and eye cancers, says Decaudin. The collaboration is expected to run for several years, and its costs will be shared.
Code: E121207

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