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Cybrexa planning first human clinical trial of cancer drug

Hartford Courant - 1/3/2019

Jan. 03--After two years, a New Haven startup developing a new class of cancer drugs is ready to begin planning its first human clinical trial, the company announced Wednesday.

Cybrexa Therapeutics, a biotechnology company in New Haven'sScience Park, hopes to start a trial in early 2020 to test its first drug, a therapy that targets the cells of solid tumors to prevent damage to healthy tissue. Cybrexa has now identified a lead candidate for the drug, CBX-11, marking a major milestone for the company, president and CEO Per Hellsund said Wednesday.

The company hopes to submit an Investigational New Drug application to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration by the end of 2019, Hullsund said.

He is leading a team of serial investors and oncologists at Cybrexa, which was founded in 2017 with $6 million raised from individuals, investment firms and Connecticut Innovations, the the state's enterprise-funding entity.

The company has since raised another $1 million and will soon close on an investment round of $10 million to $15 million, which will enable Cybrexa's 20-person team to reach the first phase of patient trials. The company has also expanded its space at 5 Science Park from 7,500 square feet to 10,000.

Cybrexa has an ambitious agenda in the global race to get new cancer drugs to patients. More than 60 new cancer therapies have launched within the past five years, and the U.S. market for anticancer drugs is expected to reach $100 billion by 2022, according to the most recent market research reports.

Cybrexa's potential drug, CBX-11, belongs to a fast-growing class of treatments called PARP inhibitors, which prevent cancerous cells from repairing and replicating themselves. The leading PARP inhibitor, made by AstraZeneca, saw $400 million in sales in 2017, according to Kuick Research.

While there's stiff competition for research dollars, Cybrexa's leaders have a proven track record as entrepreneurs.

Hellsund serves alongside board chairman Kevin Didden and board member Kevin Rakin. Between the three venture capitalists are half a dozen businesses that sold for more than a combined $1 billion.

Their latest company is based on tumor-fighting technology they call alphalex.

It was created by members of the University of Rhode Island and Yale University, including Yale physician-scientists Peter Glazer and Ranjit Bindra, the company's scientific co-founders and chief advisors.

Together, Glazer and Bindra worked to develop a chemical compound that forms a corkscrew-like structure -- an alpha helix -- when it comes into contact with the acidic cells of solid tumors.

This drills inside tumor tissue and release a "warhead" of drugs directly into cancerous cells.

Cybrexa hopes this pH-sensitive chemical reaction will spare healthy tissue, preventing the painful and life-threatening side effects of chemotherapy.

"It's really like a heat-seeking missile toward tumors," Bindra said in 2017. "I know it sounds over the top but we're really re-writing the rules of what makes a drug good and what drugs are possible to deliver to humans."

Rebecca Lurye can be reached at rlurye@courant.com.

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(c)2019 The Hartford Courant (Hartford, Conn.)

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