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Cancer drug maker gets $10M for clinical trial

The nonprofit Leukemia & Lymphoma Society pledges up to $10 million for Newtown-based drugmaker Onconova to hold clinical trials of Estybon

The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, New York, said today it will "provide up to $10 million in funding" for clinical trials of Estybon, "the lead compound under development for treating patients with high-risk myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS)," by the drug's developer, Onconova Therapeutics, Inc.

Onconova is based in Newtown, Bucks County, and Lawrenceville, NJ., and employs 30 there and at the Armed Forces Radio Biology Research Institute in Bethesda, Md. and other research sites, chief executive Ramesh Kumar told me. The firm was started in 1998 by Dr. Prem Reddy, then-head of the Fels Institute for Cancer Research at Temple, using technology from the Marie Curie Institute.

"It's atypical for a nonprofit foundation to fund trials. The builk of trials are funded by companies" or the National Cancer Institute. "It's a new trend that nonprofits have entered the fray and supported commercialization.  But the LLS has taken a lead in doing so for the past three years," Kumar said.

The society "came to us last year. They'd heard Estybon was achieving remarkable results" fighting MDS, which afflicts an estimated 70,000 Americans. "They met with us at the American Society for Hematology conference in New Orleans last winter," where Dr. Elaine Sloand of the National Institutes of Health and Dr. Azra Raza of St. Vincent's Hospital (now Columbia) presented the drug. "Our presentation was selecsed as the best of ASH. We applied, and the grant was made."

According to the society's statement, the "multicenter, randomized, clinical" trials will focus on adult patients "who have relapsed or become resistant to azacitidine or decitabine" to treat MDS, which is "difficult to manage" and whose "only potential cure is stem cell transplantation from a donor," which is especially difficult for elderly patients.

Onconova's other "small-molecule therapeutics" under development include the "radioprotectant" Ex-Rad, and a series of antibody promoters and pathogen blockers.