What is Autophagy?
Autophagy is a cellular process that plays an important role during the development and maintenance of tumors, providing them with the metabolic plasticity to meet their energetic needs, and requirements for cellular building blocks. It allows tumors to scavenge nutrients to sustain growth and survival.
Autophagy also has been demonstrated as critical to therapeutic resistance, and is upregulated during cancer treatment in response to chemotherapy and radiation.
Nutrient scavenging by autophagy is a process that tumors hijack to meet their energetic requirements and to provide the necessary cellular building blocks for growth in a stressed tumor microenvironment. Preclinical models have demonstrated a critical role for autophagy in multiple cancer types.
Autophagy has been known for over 50 years but its fundamental importance in physiology and medicine was only recognized after Yoshinori Ohsumi’s paradigm‐shifting research in the 1990’s that allowed the detailed study of the process for which he was awarded this year’s Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine.
Numerous pre‐clinical studies have now shown a requirement for autophagy in sustaining tumor growth, as well as in providing a mechanism of resistance to a number of currently used therapies.
Vescor, advised by its scientific founders White and Kimmelman, whose research has shown inhibition of autophagy can dramatically impact tumor growth in pre‐clinical models, will develop small molecule inhibitors of a number of protein targets at critical nodes of the autophagy cascade, perform investigational new drug (IND) enabling studies, and move these into clinical development.
MD Anderson’s Institute for Applied Cancer Science (IACS) in combination with Deerfield will provide drug discovery and development expertise, together with translational research focused at advancing autophagy therapeutics into trials in melanoma, lung and pancreatic cancers.
In creating Vescor, Deerfield and MD Anderson aim to perform drug discovery and development in a markedly different way than traditional oncology start‐ups. Core activities will be performed at IACS, which provides deep drug discovery and translational research expertise and capabilities, while managerial and operational expertise is provided by both IACS and Deerfield.
Vescor’s goal is to generate at least one IND‐ready asset in a condensed timeframe.