According to the National Cancer Institute, nearly 1.7 million new cases of cancer were diagnosed in the US last year, and 600,000 will die from the disease. Approximately 39.6% of men and women will be diagnosed with cancer at some point during their lifetimes, and national expenditures for cancer care in the US could reach $156 billion in 2020.
It has been estimated that metastasis – when cancer has spread from the primary tumor site – is the direct or indirect cause of 90% of all cancer deaths, yet only a small fraction of total cancer research funding (5%, according to the European Journal of Cancer) is spent on investigating metastases.
We’ve been following a company called MetaStat (OTCQB: MTST) that is focused on developing anti-metastatic therapeutic and diagnostic solutions. Unlike surrogate cancer markers, which are indirect measures of cancer and its progression, the company’s “driver-based” biomarkers are the critical components of intracellular cancer pathways responsible for directly driving the aggressive activity of cancer cells.
Mena Protein – Key Biomarker
MetaStat’s platform is based on the Mena protein and its isoforms (variants) and their key roles in the development of metastatic disease and drug resistance. The Mena protein is known to interact with a cell’s cytoskeleton in ways that help the cell to become mobile. Many cancer patients have an alternative form of the protein known as Mena invasive or MenaINV, which helps cancer cells to spread through metastasis.
Dr. Frank Gertler, a professor of biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a member of the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research and a member of MetaStat’s Scientific and Clinical Advisory Board, is the senior author of a study published in the journal Molecular Cancer Therapeutics last year that demonstrated a link between levels of Mena protein to breast cancer cells’ sensitivity to paclitaxel, a chemotherapeutic drug. According to MIT, Dr. Gertler’s group previously found that breast cancer patients who have high levels of MenaINV tend to have more metastasis and lower survival rates. The researchers wondered if Mena might also play a role in cancer cell resistance to chemotherapy.
Source: Madeleine J. Oudin, PhD, one of the authors of the MIT study, as published at news.mit.edu
“Drugs that target that pathway restore paclitaxel sensitivity to cells expressing Mena,” said Dr. Gertler. “The study also suggests that during the course of treatment it might be worth monitoring the level of Mena. If the levels begin to increase, it might suggest that switching to another type of therapy could be useful.”
MetaStat entered into a research agreement with Celgene (Nasdaq: CELG) last summer, which provided for milestone payments to MetaStat of up to approximately $973,000. Under the terms of the agreement, Celgene provides certain proprietary materials to MetaStat, and MetaStat evaluates these materials in its metastatic cell line and animal nonclinical models.
We also note with interest that Dr. Jerry Zeldis has been Chairman of MetaStat’s Board of Directors since May 2017, after previously serving as a member and Vice Chairman for the previous year. Dr. Zeldis is the Chief Medical Officer and President of Clinical Research at Sorrento Therapeutics (Nasdaq: SRNE). Previously, Dr. Zeldis spent nearly 20 years at Celgene as CEO of Celgene Global Health, Chief Medical Officer of Celgene and SVP of Clinical Research and Medical Affairs. Dr. Zeldis was instrumental in growing Celgene into one of the leading global pharmaceutical companies.
Small Company with Big Company Leadership
Regular readers will know that we focus most of our research on exchange-listed companies, but we find MetaStat notable for having a management team and advisors with a depth of experience that is rare among companies on the OTC market.
CEO Douglas Hamilton is a 20-year life sciences veteran. Previously he served as CFO for SEA Medical Systems, a Silicon Valley health technology company. In 2007, Mr. Hamilton founded and serves as Partner at New Biology Ventures, a life-sciences incubator accelerator and consulting firm. Prior to forming New Biology Ventures, he was the CFO and COO of Javelin Pharmaceuticals, where he helped build a late stage product pipeline, took the company public, and raised over $82 million in financing. Prior to Javelin, Mr. Hamilton was the CFO and Director of Business Development for PolaRx Biopharmaceuticals, where he helped develop the orphan cancer drug Trisenox and co-led the merger with Cell Therapeutics. Mr. Hamilton was previously a Project Manager at Pfizer (NYSE: PFE), working on the Vfend and Zithromax product teams, and worked in product development at Amgen (Nasdaq: AMGN) on the Aranesp, Epogen, Stemgen, MGDF and cell therapy development teams.
Chief Medical Officer Michael Donovan, PhD, MD, is board-certified in anatomic and clinical pathology and pediatric pathology with extensive experience in designing and implementing clinical studies. He has spearheaded the utilization of multiplex tissue and fluid-based assays and coupled mathematic applications to produce clinically relevant diagnostic/predictive/prognostic outcome models for a variety of tumor types and disease states. Dr. Donovan also serves as a Professor of Experimental Pathology and Director of the Biorepository and Pathology core at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mt. Sinai in New York. In addition to an academic career at Harvard Medical School and Boston Children’s Hospital, Dr. Donovan has over 20 years of biotechnology industry experience, serving in various senior management roles at Millennium Pharmaceuticals and Incyte (Nasdaq: INCY). He most recently served as Chief Medical Officer of Exosome Diagnostics and Chief Scientific Officer for Aureon Biosciences Corporation.
VP of Finance Daniel Schneiderman has fifteen years of investment banking and corporate finance experience, focusing on private and public equity for small and mid-market capitalization companies mainly in the healthcare and life sciences sectors. VP of Investor Relations Rick Pierce has 29 years of experience in specialty pharma, biotech, medical device and diagnostics operations and finance. He founded FEP Capital Advisors, which provides investor relations and corporate development services to biotech, specialty pharmaceuticals and medical device companies. We note with interest that Mr. Pierce has been involved in the uplisting of two OTC companies to the NASDAQ and the NYSE.
We highlighted the involvement of Dr. Gertler and Dr. Zeldis above. The other members of MetaStat’s Scientific and Clinical Advisory Board are all recognized experts in cancer and clinical research. Notable among them is Dr. Bruce Zetter, Chief Scientific Officer and Vice President of Research at Boston Children’s Hospital and the Charles Nowiszewski Professor of Cancer Biology at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Zetter is highly regarded globally as a leader in the research of tumor angiogenesis, progression, cancer diagnosis and cancer metastasis.
We like MetaStat’s focus on developing treatments for cancer metastasis, we recognize the value of association with a company like Celgene and a biotech industry leader like Dr. Zeldis and we appreciate where the company sits on the risk-reward spectrum. Last month, the company announced the initial closing of a private placement of $2.1 million out of a planned $7 million of its common stock, led by Perceptive Advisors along with other existing institutional and accredited investors.
The stock trades by appointment on the OTC market and therefore any quoted price or market valuation should be weighed with that in mind. As we look at this management team and assembly of advisors, we would surmise that their aims for MetaStat go beyond being a stealthy OTC company, and we’ll be watching MetaStat closely for progress in their corporate and clinical development.
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