Eikonoklastes: Addressing an Unmet Need Through Pioneering Innovation
Modern medicine is capable of some amazing feats. It’s truly incredible when a treatment for an illness that has long plagued society emerges, with the possibility of saving lives once thought lost. And the event is even more spectacular when the diagnosis of a particular illness is almost always fatal.
Eikonoklastes Therapeutics is a preclinical stage biopharmaceutical company developing not one, but two such promising therapies for diseases that currently have no viable cures or effective treatments. The company was founded by Chief Executive Officer Bruce Halpryn, PhD, former COO of gene therapy specialist Myonexus Therapeutics, and CincyTech principal Sam Lee, MD, MBA, MPH. The company was formed based a novel immunotherapy licensed from Ohio State University with the potential for treating triple-negative breast cancer. Less than two years later, the company acquired the asset for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS.
Proven Talent at the Helm
Eikonoklastes is unique in its field for a number of reasons. First is the talent of the team leading the development of these novel therapies. Halpryn is a proven leader with decades of experience overseeing drug development for both corporate powerhouses as well as startups. Chief Business Officer Lee is a trained physician with strong business acumen honed from years of successful venture capital investment. They are joined by Chief Scientific/ Medical Officer Mark Dato, MD, PhD, a drug development industry veteran and well experienced research scientist who has worked alongside Halpryn for many years.
Next is the vast potential for each of these therapies that the team is developing. The first, discovered and designed by Zhiwei Hu, MD, Ph.D., of Ohio State University, targets a protein called tissue factor that is selectively over-expressed by cancer cells, cancer stem cells, and pathogenic vascular endothelial cells. The therapy is able to home in on this target, bringing with it the body’s own natural killer cells that attack and decrease the size of the tumor. While the therapy is currently being developed to treat triple-negative breast cancer, it has potential to treat many other forms of cancer as well. It also promises a clean safety profile, without the harmful side effects of traditional chemotherapy drugs.
The second platform is a gene therapy developed by Brian Head, Ph.D., of University of California San Diego, for the treatment of ALS. The therapy uses a modified virus to target and penetrate specific neuronal cells to deliver a protein called caveolin-1, which protects the cells under attack by the disease and decreases the pace of neurodegeneration. As with the first platform, this therapy could also be developed to treat other neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, among others.
Meeting Unmet Needs
Another distinguishing characteristic of Eikonoklastes has to do with the specific diseases the company is targeting with each therapy. Both triple-negative breast cancer and ALS are conditions for which there are no pre-existing cures or highly effective treatments.
They are also both killers.
Triple-negative breast cancer accounts for 15 percent of all breast cancers and has an average mortality of approximately 18 months post diagnosis. ALS is responsible for as many as five in every 100,000 deaths in people 20 years or older, and the average life expectancy post diagnosis is between only two to five years. The unmet need for effective treatments for these diseases means regulatory bodies are motivated to expedite potential therapies that demonstrate efficacy through clinical trials toward approval.
“What’s unique about Eikonoklastes is developing toward a portfolio of novel therapeutic programs which address a broad range of conditions with high unmet clinical need,” said Kenneth Morand, PhD, Executive-in-Residence at CincyTech. “Drug development is challenging, with only 10 to 15 percent of programs that get into clinical trials ever being commercialized. But with the two separate assets in development at Eikonoklastes, one focused on cancer and another focused on neurological disorders, if one happens to fail it doesn’t impact the risk associated with the second. We get multiple shots on goal to move a drug through to FDA approval and make a difference in the world of treating deadly diseases.”
Eikonoklastes anticipates one or more of the programs to enter human clinical trials within 12-24 months, and FDA approved for use by patients within 4-6 years.