What You Need to Know About RJS Biologics

October 27, 2015
By Alex Keown, BioSpace.com Breaking News Staff

With a focus on drug delivery, Seattle-based RJS Biologics is on a path to develop new therapies to treat cancer and other serious illnesses. RJS Biologics (RJSBio) has developed a novel drug conjugate approach that uses computationally designed affinity tags to drive therapeutic compounds with specificity into cancer cells. This novel targeted approach is anticipated to improve the predictability of cancer drug development and improve clinical therapy and patient outcomes.

Since its 2009 founding, RJSBio has fostered an in-house environment that combines hard-edged science with creative innovation. Company officials hope that development style will help the company emerge as a leader in oncology therapy development. RJS Biologics, which currently has eight employees, is banking that its approach will be applicable to many cancer types and many drug payloads.

The company’s fully-synthetic, small molecule affinity tags facilitate effective tumor cell uptake of conjugated drugs. Anti-cancer drug payloads are ferried into cancer cells using cancer-specific proteins. The company said it is “striving to minimize unwanted uptake of the anti-cancer drugs by normal cells, thereby reducing the off-target side effects that pose significant downsides of current cancer therapy.”

Company Leadership
Since 2009, company founder Stephen McCraith, who serves as president and chief executive officer, has nurtured the company through initial technical feasibility studies to the issuance of patents. McCraith was motivated to found RJSBio to improve patient outcomes for serious cancers, building on his experience in two other Seattle based start-ups, including Allozyme Inc. and Kaleetan Pharmaceuticals.

Another key in the cog of RJSBio is Dwight Baker, the acting chief scientific officer. Baker joined the company in August 2014 to assist with strategic development of scientific programs, and business liaisons. He was formerly a senior director at Bothell, Wash.-based AMRI and Cubist Pharmaceuticals, Inc. in Lexington, Mass. In addition to his role at RJSBio, Baker also contributes to drug discovery and development programs at Texas A&M University.

Although there are no specific timelines for additional C-level hiring, McCraith said the company is interested in “letters from strong executives who are interested in joining our team.”

Company Financing
RJSBio is privately held, but has garnered the support of the State of Washington Life Science Discovery Fund through a $250,000 Proof of Concept grant. The company is in the process of raising $5 million to fund preclinical through Phase I development of an initial EGFRi lead candidate. Because the targeted drug conjugate approach has strong potential value across a number of disease areas, the company is actively seeking collaborations to further develop this exciting technology for additional cancers or inflammatory targets.

Company Pipeline
RJSBio has a pipeline of conjugated anti-cancer compounds with payloads specific to a variety of clinically-relevant targets including kinase inhibitors, enzyme inhibitors, and cell cycle inhibitors. The company has three drugs in pre-clinical stages and some, as of this writing, in the discovery phase. The company said it is hoping to partner several of these into clinical development during the next few years.

Two epidermal growth factor inhibitors (EGFRI), RJSO12 and RJSO13, are being developed to target lung cancers. According to the company website, the two EGFRIs under development “may be less toxic than adverse reactions to many other forms of chemotherapy, however the skin reactions caused lead one in ten patients to interrupt or even discontinue therapy.” However, the company said In vitro examination of the compounds is leading the company to believe it has “more focused drugs with a greater preference for cancer cells over normal cells.”

Another RJSBio compound RJSO5X, an Artemisinins, is designed to target leukemia and lymphoma cells. The company is evaluating Artemisinins to determine if a combination of intracellular iron and Artemisinin may be a deadly combination to a cancer cell.

Market Competition
Conjugated anti-cancer therapeutics are currently very popular for pharmaceutical company development and in particular there are many antibody-drug conjugates (ADCs) currently in clinical evaluation. RJSBio’s approach is unique because it does not incorporate a biologic entity (antibody, protein, or peptide) and thus does not suffer from the pharmacokinetic obstacles that such conjugates face. The fully-synthetic, cancer-cell specific, drug conjugates that RJSBio is developing are components of a cost effective and complementary approach to the current macromolecular approaches such as ADCs or nanoparticle-based drug conjugates.

Other companies are also focusing on kinase inhibitors, including Bay Area giant Genentech ’s alectinib, which was granted priority review by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in September 2015. During clinical trials, Alectinib, an anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK) inhibitor, shrank tumors in patients with advanced ALK-positive non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) whose disease had progressed following treatment with crizotinib.

Dollars and Deals
RJSBio has not yet struck any partnerships, but company founder McCraith said RJSBio “is actively seeking suitable partners with which to co-develop technology.”

What to Watch For
Over the course of the next few years, McCraith said RJSBio will likely execute several significant drug development collaborations with major pharma partners, as well as continue some basic translational research funded by government agencies.

This profile is part of an ongoing series here at BioSpace highlighting smaller biotech companies carving out a niche in the industry.

Back to news