[caption id="attachment_226687" align="aligncenter" width="800"] CorriXR Therapeutics led by CEO Dr. Eric Kmiec (left) won the inaugural pitch competition at the Delaware DNA bioscience conference on May 11. | PHOTO COURTESY OF CHRISTIANACARE[/caption]
WILMINGTON – Attendees of the first Delaware DNA bioscience conference named CorriXR Therapeutics, the gene-editing cancer drug firm spun out of ChristianaCare, the winner in a pitch contest of promising startups.The firm, led by CEO Dr. Eric Kmiec who also heads ChristianaCare’s Gene Editing Institute and has been a leading national researcher in the use of the gene-editing technology known as CRISPR, won a $2,500 prize for topping the contest between eight Delaware-based startups.CRISPR is an emerging technology that can detect and destroy genetic mutations, or even disable genes that nullify a patient’s response to therapies like chemotherapy radiation.Kmiec likens CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) to a “genetic spell-checker” that is able to correct inherited diseases like sickle cell diseases and cystic fibrosis. But he believes the more relevant approach is in disabling genes. CorriXR has developed unique CRISPR and biomolecular tools to disable a gene of a tumor cell but not the healthy cell, making it possible to select a target to treat.Seeking to increase the efficacy of traditional cancer treatments stymied by drug resistance, CorriXR’s has built a pipeline of novel genetic medicines targeting multiple solid tumors, including squamous cell carcinoma of the lung, esophageal cancer and melanoma.“The platform works by disabling genetic functions that cause cancer drug resistance, and we restore sensitivity to treatments like immunotherapy, chemotherapy, radiation, and even targeted therapies,” Kmiec told the crowd of about 350 at the conference held in Claymont. “This will increase survival rates and allow the patient to have a better life by reducing, for example, the amount of chemotherapy that's required.”Unlike immunotherapy, however, CorriXR’s drugs are not restricted by biomarkers or haplotypes, which often limit the number of patients who can benefit from a particular treatment, Kmiec said.CorriXR’s work has been incubating in the Helen F. Graham Cancer Center for over seven years with U.S. National Institutes of Health and ChristianaCare support of about $7 million in pre-seed funding. Kmiec noted that the company takes advantage of its connections to the health system for nurse navigators, clinical trial sites, tumor data and patient access.“Our initial protocol, which has focused on eliminating chemotherapy and targeted therapy for lung cancer, has already passed through the first level of U.S. Food & Drug Administration scrutiny,” Kmiec told the audience on May 11. “They actually asked us to expand into a basket trial, where we started with lung cancer at the first indication and now they pushed us to esophageal and head and neck.”In preparation for the advancement of gene-editing medicine, CorriXR has also begun engaging manufacturing and analytical partners.“Because gene editing is a novel and interesting technology, it's very important to gain partners who understand the space and can produce enough material for the clinical trial,” he said.Coming in second at the pitch competition was Cosmos Pharmaceuticals, which is developing a patented smart cap for pill bottles, and finishing third was Hartlon, which is developing a resorbable vascular stent that is designed to salvage limbs that are at risk of amputation by restoring blood flow below the knee. Each won $1,000 for placing in the Top 3.Also participating in the contest were BioCurie, Cellergy Pharma, Innovative Precision Health, Nitro Biosciences, and Radiolife.