For Immediate Release
Contact: Andrea Greif
Senior Director of Communications
White Plains, NY - March 30, 2015 - A promising University of Michigan research project focused on developing new treatments for patients with a rare and lethal subtype of leukemia has received a significant boost from a recent licensing agreement with a new biotechnology company, Kura Oncology. The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) has been funding this work, led by Assistant Professor Jolanta Grembecka, Ph.D, in collaboration with Tomasz Cierpicki, Ph.D., at the University of Michigan, since 2009.
Kura Oncology is a clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company focused on the discovery and development of precision medicines for the treatment of solid tumors and blood cancers. Kura Oncology recently completed a private placement of its common stock to investors totaling approximately $60 million. The company subsequently completed a reverse merger to become a public reporting company.
The relationship among LLS, University of Michigan and Kura Oncology is the latest in a series of partnerships established through LLS's Therapy Acceleration Program (TAP) that have led to larger investments by other companies with the means to bring these therapies to patients more quickly.
The University of Michigan licensed the compounds to Kura in December 2014 after weighing offers from several potential commercial partners.
"Kura demonstrated that they had a clear market focus and the appropriate management and investors to bring these compounds into the clinic," said U-M Tech Transfer Managing Director of Licensing Robin Rasor. "Kura also agreed to support ongoing research in the Grembecka and Cierpicki labs, where continued progress is being made in further development of new therapeutics for acute leukemia."
Grembecka's research is focused on developing new treatments for patients with leukemia associated with abnormalities in the mixed lineage leukemia (MLL) gene. When another protein called menin interacts with the MLL fusion proteins encoded by the abnormal MLL gene, this results in MLL leukemias, which occur both in children and adults, and constitute 50-80% of infant acute lymphoblastic leukemia cases and 34-50% of infant acute myeloid leukemia AML cases. Grembecka's team has been working on first-in-class small molecule compounds that inhibit the menin-MLL interaction.
Patients with the MLL leukemias have a very poor prognosis with current therapies, with only about one-third of patients surviving five years after their diagnosis. Therefore, novel therapeutic strategies are urgently needed. Conventional chemotherapies are highly toxic and not very effective for patients with MLL leukemias. The goal of Grembecka's team is to develop novel drugs that will specifically target and inhibit the binding of menin to the MLL fusion proteins without affecting normal cells.
Grembecka first received funding from LLS in 2009 through LLS's Translational Research Program (TRP), which helps advance discoveries from the lab into clinical trials. She is also a recipient of an LLS Career Development Program (CDP) award. LLS has continuously supported this work since the awarding of the first grant, and in 2010, in light of the tremendous promise of some of the small molecule compounds she was working on, transferred the project into its TAP program. TAP is designed to help research projects advance into the drug development pipeline. One of the goals of TAP is to capitalize on LLS's robust portfolio of grant-supported academic projects - particularly those that show promise of near-term clinical benefit for patients with blood cancers. Since 2009, LLS has provided Grembecka's lab more than $8 million in funding through its TRP, CDP and TAP programs.
"LLS saw the great potential of the work of Dr. Grembecka and her team early on, which is why we elevated our support through our TAP program," said Louis J. DeGennaro, Ph.D., LLS's president and chief executive officer. "It is gratifying to see this promise recognized by those who can commit even more resources and help bring these therapies to patients more quickly. These types of agreements are further evidence of LLS's successful track record in venture philanthropy, as we anticipate these investments will enable more of our partners to surmount the investment risk threshold."
Studies of the Michigan researchers' work with these compounds were published today in Nature Medicine, and on March 26 in Cancer Cell.
About The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society
The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society® (LLS) is the world's largest voluntary health agency dedicated to blood cancer. The LLS mission: Cure leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin's disease and myeloma, and improve the quality of life of patients and their families. LLS funds lifesaving blood cancer research around the world, provides free information and support services, and is the voice for all blood cancer patients seeking access to quality, affordable, coordinated care.
Founded in 1949 and headquartered in White Plains, NY, LLS has chapters throughout the United States and Canada. To learn more, visit LLS.org. Patients should contact the Information Resource Center at (800) 955-4572, Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. ET.