Cancer drug developer Semafore expands to Scottsdale

November 8, 2007

By hammersmith

Semafore Pharmaceuticals Inc., an Indianapolis cancer therapeutics firm, is opening a Scottsdale office, hoping that proximity to Arizona’s cancer experts will help its top drug candidate reach the marketplace.

Semafore expects to hire around 20 staff for the facility, which, at least at first, will not include lab space. The firm’s immediate task is to garner additional funding to support the development of SF 1126, a drug candidate now in a Phase 1 safety trial at the Scottsdale Mayo Clinic and the Indiana University Cancer Center.

Edward Jacobs, Semafore’s president and chief executive officer, said in the Arizona Republic that the company chose Scottsdale for the new branch office because of Arizona’s recent support of the biosciences and the presence in the state of such cancer researchers as Daniel Von Hoff, director of the Clinical Translational Research Division at the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen), and David Alberts, director of the Arizona Cancer Center at the University of Arizona.

Much of Semafore’s technology draws on cancer researcher Donald Durden’s discoveries about the PI3K/PTEN pathway, which regulates cell growth. In healthy cells, a balance exists between the signals sent by PI3Ks, enzymes that encourage cell longevity and replication and stimulate blood-vessel growth, and PTEN, enzymes with the opposite effect. Many cancer-causing mutations involve PI3K, essentially upsetting the healthy balance and prompting excessive cell growth.

SF 1126 is a small molecule Semafore has developed that inhibits PI3K. In initial studies, introducing SF 1126 appears to slow tumor growth, and seems to have an even better, synergistic effect when used in conjunction with chemotherapy.

“Many people have called [PI3K] the master switch of cancer,” said Von Hoff, in the Republic. “It’s a real important target. If you can modify it or knock it out, you can have an effect on cancer.” Von Hoff assisted Semafore in designing the clinical safety trial now underway, and TGen’s clinical researchers are working with Mayo scientists on the trial.

Along with therapies like SF 1126 that target PI3K, Semafore is also working on ways to target PTEN. A PTEN suppressor, by slowing down cell death, should help otherwise healthy cells survive the effects of chemotherapy or radiation treatment.

For more information:

Drug firm launches Valley site,” The Arizona Republic, 11/07/2007

Semafore Pharmaceuticals Inc. — Science & Technologies