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NiKang partners with Roche on liver cancer drug study

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WILMINGTON – NiKang Therapeutics, quietly one of the most-promising clinical stage biotech companies in Delaware focused on cutting-edge cancer treatments, has signed a new collaboration agreement with the Swiss pharmaceutical giant Roche to study on a deadly liver cancer.

NiKang Therapeutics logo Wilmington Delaware Innovation SpaceNiKang, which is based at the Delaware Innovation Space at the DuPont Experimental Station, and Roche signed a clinical trial collaboration and supply agreement on Dec. 8 to evaluate the use of the unnamed small-molecule drug known as NKT2152 along with established treatments. It is the third collaboration agreement signed by NiKang for the drug.

NKT2152 helps to prevent hypoxia, or the inadequate flow of oxygen, which aids the growth of malignant tumors. Roche aims to test the drug along with its treatment atezolizumab (Tecentriq) and bevacizumab (Avastin) in advanced hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), an aggressive tumor that usually occurs with chronic liver disease and cirrhosis.

That liver cancer is responsible for over 12,000 deaths per year in the United States, making it one of the most serious cancers in adults, according to Johns Hopkins University.

The collaboration will piggyback off of a drug trial already underway by Roche known as MORPHEUS-LIVER phase 1b/2 to aid its development.

Patient enrollment in the randomized multi-regional Phase 1b/2 trial will begin in 2024. Under the collaboration, Roche will sponsor the study, and each company will supply its respective anti-cancer agent. NiKang retains its development and commercialization rights of NKT2152. Additional financial details of the agreement were not disclosed.

“We are thrilled to enter this collaboration with Roche, which allows us to explore the broader potential of our HIF2α inhibitor NKT2152 in treating solid tumors beyond clear cell Renal Cell Carcinoma (ccRCC),” said Zhenhai Gao, co-founder, president, and CEO of NiKang. “Based on the compelling scientific rationale and supporting preclinical studies, we have a keen interest in assessing NKT2152 in HCC patients. This collaboration enables us to leverage Roche’s MORPHEUS-LIVER phase 1b/2 platform to explore this promising opportunity expeditiously.”

NiKang has already partnered with Pfizer and AVEO Oncology on two other studies of patients with advanced ccRCC.

NiKang was incubated in 2017 with $10 million of seed funding by CBC Group, a Chinese health care investment firm formerly known as C-Bridge Capital. It has since quietly developed promising small-molecule drugs that have attracted investors’ interest.

In June 2021, it closed a $200 million Series C financing round, one of the largest such venture capital fundraisings in Delaware in recent memory and among the largest in the greater Philadelphia that year.

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