The Cambridge-based company Divide and Conquer has raised €11.3M (£10M) to develop a treatment that breaks up glioblastoma tumors, exposing them to attack by chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
With this Series A round, funded by the UK VC firm Medicxi, Divide and Conquer has exited stealth mode a year after its foundation. The company will use the money to take its lead candidate drug for the treatment of glioblastoma to its first study in humans, expected to start by the end of 2020.
A common problem with tackling cancer is that the tumor becomes resistant to treatments such as chemotherapy. Divide and Conquer is hoping to overcome this by developing a small molecule drug that exploits a relatively unexplored mechanism of drug resistance in cancer. In this mechanism, the cancer cells connect with each other using structures called tumor microtubules. This lets the cancer cells share molecules and collectively resist attacks from the immune system and cancer treatments.
“It’s a revolutionary way of thinking about it,” said David Grainger, Divide and Conquer’s co-founder and Director, as well as Chief Scientific Advisor at Medicxi. “For years, scientists have argued over whether this mechanism was an artifact or if it was real. Then when people became convinced that it was real, they argued over whether or not it was important.”
Divide and Conquer’s small molecule drug is designed to disconnect glioblastoma cells, which should make them vulnerable to standard cancer treatments and the immune system. To do this, the drug targets a molecule called protein kinase C, which cuts off the cellular connections when activated.
“The cell says ‘I’m letting go of you guys, I want to be autonomous. I activate protein kinase C, and I let go of all of the connections to the social network,’” Grainger told me.
While immunotherapies such as checkpoint inhibitors have revolutionized cancer treatments for solid tumors, many tumors still fail to respond. Divide and Conquer’s sensitizing drug combined with these approaches could make many drug-resistant tumors treatable, such as triple-negative breast cancer and colorectal cancer.
Another example of a company targeting drug resistance in tumors is the Swiss company Tolremo, which is developing drugs that stop cancer cells from becoming resistant to therapies by blocking their genetic adaptation mechanisms.
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