Context Therapeutics, a three-year-old University City firm set up to create new cancer-fighting medication, has purchased Apristor, the last drug possessed by Arno Therapeutics, a Flemington, N.J., drug company that’s dissolving.
Arno tried to create the drug for prostate cancer. Context plans to create Apristor as a breast cancer therapy and hopes it’s going to become its first revenue-producing drug.
Apristor provides a “publication treatment” for metastatic breast cancer, which kills 40,000 American women a year, Martin Lehr, Context’s chief executive, said in a statement. The drug, which blocks the hormone progesterone, “established efficacy in two Stage 2 metastatic breast cancer clinical trials” while Arno possessed it, according to Context. The medication “was examined in over 200 patients,” most of whom were formerly taking the drug Tamoxifen, “and it was well-tolerated with no drug-related serious adverse events.” Terms of the sale weren’t disclosed.
In April 2016, Arno closed the breast cancer trials using Apristor to focus on prostate cancer. Context will now shift the drug’s focus to breast cancer, also stated it’ll have “exclusive” patented use of this compound through 2034 or later.
Arno had been analyzing Apristor (also called Onapristone XR) for operation-resistant prostate cancer, with financing from billionaire investor George Soros and the Israel-based Pontifax venture capital group, amongst others. Arno went public following a 2008 merger, and investors bid its share price around $25 annually in hopes that its own portfolio of cancer-fighting medication would prove rewarding. The price slid under $1 in 2014 as Arno failed to bring products to market, though it continued to increase new cash as recently as 2016. Last year, the company canceled drug-development plans and started selling off its medications.
What can Context do with Apristor which Arno did not? “Arno pursued a different growth path,” for a different disease target, Context president Scott Appelbaum emailed. He said it typically takes a long time to acquire a successful Stage 2 drug to market, “but occasionally that time can be accelerated.” A Stanford Law graduate, Appelbaum was a senior vice president at Shire Pharmaceuticals in Chesterbrook from 2004 to 2014, also served as top legal officer for Medgenics Inc. and Vitae Pharmaceuticals.
“You will find no gurarantees in drug development,” Appelbaum added, “but we think we are taking a reasonable approach to obtaining this drug accepted. If accepted, we think it should be successful commercially.”
Appelbaum cofounded Context in 2015 with Felix Kim, an assistant professor at Drexel University College of Medicine. Their team comprises Context chief executive Martin Lehr, that was an investor for Osage Partners, the Philadelphia venture capital firm from 2009 to 2015, and formerly a researcher at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and New York’s Sloan-Kettering. He is a son of Seth Lehr, a spouse with Ira Lubert and Howard Ross in $1.4 billion-asset, Philadelphia-based private-equity firm LLR. Robert Morris, Context’s chief financial officer, formerly held the CFO job at Vitae.
Context employs seven people at its Drexel Plaza headquarters, plus four consultants, and plans to nearly triple its employees by next year, Appelbaum informed me. The company is “actively recruiting many positions” to work on Apristor, he added.
Coding’s purpose “is to construct a fully integrated pharmaceutical firm that’s headquartered in Philadelphia, handling everything from drug discovery, to clinical development, to registration for approval, and ultimately commercialization,” Appelbaum said. That’s compared to a lot of small drug and biotech companies, which since 2000 have been absorbed to big companies such as Johnson & Johnson.