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The following article is sponsored by Lantern Pharma. The information contained in this article in no way represents investment advice or opinion on the part of Benzinga or its writers and is intended for informational purposes only.
Lantern Pharma Inc. (NASDAQ: LTRN), a clinical-stage biopharma company, debuted as a public company on June 15, 2020. In merely the seven months since, Lantern has already more than quadrupled its A.I. platform called RADR© (to over 1.2 billion data points), initiated partnerships with three world-renowned cancer research institutes (Johns Hopkins, Georgetown and Fox Chase Cancer Center), significantly advanced its clinical development program of LP-300 in a subset of lung cancer patients, secured manufacturing capacity for its growing portfolio of targeted cancer therapeutics and, built a cash cushion through at least 2025. But, perhaps most notable was the January 4, 2021 announcement of an agreement with Califia Pharma to launch an Antibody Drug Conjugate (“ADC”) program for the treatment of solid tumors and blood cancers.
As described by John Vandermosten who covers LTRN as the senior biotechnology analyst for Zacks Small Cap Research, “The agreement with Califia leverages the tumor-killing potential of Lantern’s LP-184 with Califia’s expertise in ADCs to target a number of genomically defined cancers including colorectal, pancreatic, lung and ovarian. If successful, this combination can potentially serve an addressable market of nearly 150,000 patients in developed markets.”
ADCs are made up of three different parts — the antibody (“A”), the drug “(D”), and the conjugate (“C”), or the linker that connects the A with the D. The antibody is essentially the GPS system that directs the drug to tumor cells. Once there, the conjugate is precisely engineered to unlock the drug directly into the tumor cells. As such, ADCs can potentially have greater tumor-killing power with significantly fewer side effects and perhaps even enable treatment of tumors that have until now been difficult to treat.
“ADCs bring together the ability to target specific antibodies on specific cancer cells and then link that antibody targeting capability to deliver specific potent drugs to the targeted cancer cell,” said Panna Sharma, CEO of Lantern Pharma. “ADCs epitomize precision medicine in cancer and are an emerging class of highly potent drugs that have seen eight FDA approvals in just the last three years.”
With the ADC program now in development, Benzinga had the opportunity to speak with Panna Sharma, about the company’s ADC program, the resurgence of ADCs, as well as Lantern’s recent follow-on offering.
The Resurgence of ADCs
In the past four years, the FDA has approved seven ADCs for multiple cancers. And while this is an exciting time for the industry, it’s worth noting that ADCs are not a new discovery.
The first successful clinical trial of an ADC took place in 1983. Although, it wasn’t until 2000 that this drug became commercially available. Interest in ADCs then fell dormant until about five years ago. So, why the recent interest? Well, according to Sharma the renewed interest in ADCs has stemmed from two key factors.
“First, the antibodies developed in the late 90s and early 2000s are now losing patent protections providing a range of relatively inexpensive and well-proven antibodies,” he said. “And second, perhaps most importantly, are the advancements in technical know-how and manufacturing of the conjugate technologies that link the specific antibodies with the tumor-killing drugs.”
Perhaps predictably, the combination of these two factors has clarified the therapeutic and commercial potential of ADCs, leading to a steady stream of Big Pharma deal-related activity for various active ADC programs.
In what could be considered the landmark ADC transaction, Gilead Sciences, Inc. (NASDAQ: GILD) agreed to acquire Immunomedics for $21 billion in September 2020. Also in September 2020, Merck & Co., Inc. (NYSE: MRK) partnered with Seagen Inc (NASDAQ: SGEN) to co-develop and co-commercialize an investigational ADC for breast cancer and other solid tumors in a deal worth over $2.6 billion. More recently, in November 2020, Merck agreed to purchased VelosBio for $2.8 billion. And, in December 2020, Germany’s Boehringer-Ingelheim acquired NBE Therapeutics for about $1.4 billion in the hopes that NBE Therapeutics iADC platform would strengthen its immuno-oncology portfolio. And there have been others in recent months. But perhaps the most notable aspect of each of these transactions, except for the GILD deal which included an FDA-approved drug, all the others involved assets in early (phase I/II) clinical development.
Mixing A.I. & ADC
In the company’s collaboration with Califia Pharma, Lantern will be utilizing its own drug candidate, LP-184 (i.e., the “D” in ADC), along with Califia’s library of linkers (i.e., the “C”) to develop its ADCs. And, Lantern will use its RADR© A.I. platform to precisely identify the right antibody(-ies) that can deliver its cancer-killing drug directly into the tumor cell.
“The reason why they [Califia] are attractive to us is because the inventor of the conjugates at Califia is the same person who helped invent LP-100 and LP-184,” said Sharma. Sharma continued, “by working with Califia, Lantern has cut out years from a typical ADC development timeline. This is because Califia’s linkers are engineered from the start to be optimized for our class of drugs. Typically, the process of optimally linking the drug with the conjugate, and manufacturing that structure at scale, can take many years and can be very expensive.”
“Working closely with innovators and world-leading drug developers is an essential part of Lantern’s business model to leverage and develop new platforms that can transform the timeline and effectiveness of cancer drug development,” said Sharma. “By implementing an ADC approach, we aim to offer cancer patients an additional, highly-targeted platform that can make meaningful contributions in advancing the personalization of treatment, while also benefiting from synergies with our RADR© A.I. drug development platform to efficiently identify the most complementary antibody."
Lantern expects to launch IND studies in 2021 to support the ADC program with the aim to begin phase I clinical studies in 2022.
$69 Million Follow-On Offering
On January 20, 2021, Lantern Pharma completed a $69 million follow-on public offering. According to Sharma, “The added capital funds Lantern’s operations through mid-2025 and allows the company and investors to focus on the clinical advancement of our pipeline of potentially high value targeted cancer therapeutics, including the newly added ADC program.”
As summarized by Zacks’ Vandermosten “Lantern’s recent $69 million financing gives Lantern sufficient resources to accelerate the development of existing programs while also kicking-off novel and potentially very significant development programs in various tumors, including in high medical need CNS tumors such as ATRT and, various ADC combinations.”
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