MD Anderson and Deerfield Management create Vescor LLC to develop novel therapeutics based on inhibiting autophagy for treatment of specific cancers

Vescor LLC, a new company focused on discovery and development of autophagy targeted therapeutics for cancer treatment, has been formed by The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Deerfield Management and two leading autophagy experts, Eileen White, Ph.D., deputy director and associate director for Basic Science, Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, and Alec Kimmelman, M.D., Ph.D., chairman, Department of Radiation Oncology at NYU Langone Medical Center and a member of the Perlmutter Cancer Center at NYU Langone.

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.

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 micro-environment” said White, “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, including pancreatic cancer, as well as in providing a mechanism of resistance to a number of currently used therapies” said Kimmelman. “There is a need for potent and specific autophagy inhibitors to advance these important findings into clinical practice.”

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.

“We are excited to join forces with Drs. White and Kimmelman, two world-leading autophagy experts,” said Phil Jones, Ph.D., IACS’s executive director and head of drug discovery. “Our goal is to drive novel drug discovery paradigms and develop cancer therapeutics targeting unexplored mechanisms that might provide high clinical impact. We are delighted to partner in this effort to advance novel drugs towards the clinic.”

Vescor’s goal is to generate at least one IND-ready asset in a condensed timeframe. This capital-efficient model is possible due to the availability of 100 percent of dedicated resources advancing product development efforts. 

“We believe Vescor will identify opportunities to significantly advance the treatment of cancer through manipulating autophagy and thus restore cellular homeostasis leading to the potential reduction of cancer disease burden,” stated William Slattery, Partner at Deerfield. We look forward to working with Drs. White and Kimmelman and MD Anderson to expedite the novel biology of autophagy and to develop drugs that have the ability to impact the lives of patients.”


About Deerfield

Deerfield is an investment management firm committed to advancing healthcare through investment, information and philanthropy.