Canadian drug discovery and development company Pascal Biosciences has executed an exclusive, worldwide licence option agreement with STC.UNM (STC) to purchase a therapeutic monoclonal antibody for B-cell precursor acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (BCP-ALL).

STC is the technology-transfer and economic-development organisation of the University of New Mexico (UNM).

ALL is the most common type of childhood cancer caused by mutations during the early development of lymphocytes, and is usually found in paediatric patients aged two to five years, as well as in older adults above 50 years.

Tumour cells from the majority of ALL patients express the marker VpreB1, which is a sub-unit of the pre-B cell receptor (pre-BCR).

UNM Comprehensive Cancer Center scientists Dr Bridget Wilson, Dr. Stuart Winter and their colleagues have found a high-affinity, fully human monoclonal antibody specific for VpreB1 that kills ALL tumour cells in cell culture.

"Those that fail chemotherapy usually have poor outcomes, and we believe VpreB1 therapy has great potential to treat these patients."

Expression of this marker is limited to leukaemic cells and a small subset of developing immune cells called pre-B cell.

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Targeting VpreB1 particularly eliminates the tumour cells while sparing the more mature memory B-cells that are important in fighting the infection.

This makes the VpreB1-targeted therapy much safer than chemotherapy, which destroys all growing cells and accompanies significant adverse side effects.

Pascal Biosciences CEO Dr Patrick Gray said: “Fortunately, most patients with this devastating disease can be cured with standard chemotherapy.

“However, those that fail chemotherapy usually have poor outcomes, and we believe VpreB1 therapy has great potential to treat these patients.

“In addition, young patients that receive chemotherapy often develop other cancers as they mature, so a more targeted therapy focused on VpreB1 may prevent future serious complications.”