The HOX gene family and its role in embryonic regulation of differentiation and sequencing has been characterised over at least a hundred years. There is increasing recognition of the role of re-activation of developmental (homeobox or HOX) genes in the pathogenesis of common cancers. Largely silenced after birth, aberrant HOX gene expression has been shown to have pro-oncogenic effects and hence are potential cancer biomarkers and therapeutic targets. We have shown HOX gene dysregulation is very common in many cancers, and therefore offers a rational target for new drug development.
The company operates from the Surrey Technology Centre and is advised by Professor Pandha, Head of Oncology at the University of Surrey and clinician at the adjacent Royal Surrey County Hospital in Guildford and Professor Richard Morgan, Director of the Institute of Cancer Therapeutics in the University of Bradford.
Although only recently incorporated, unlike many emerging biotech companies, our technology is based on over fourteen years of pioneering research conducted by Professors Pandha and Morgan. The company has established a world class lead in the field of HOX genes and has a commanding intellectual property position, with key patents filed in 2015 and 2016.
The team has identified a peptide inhibitor of HOX proteins (designated HTL-001) that selectively kills cancer cells, as demonstrated in a wide range of cell lines and in animal models. A recently completed preclinical toxicology package indicates that HTL-001 is safe at therapeutic doses and suitable for human studies. In 2016 HTL developed HTL-002, a small molecule compound version of the peptide, which has the potential to be given orally for an expanded range of applications.
If successful in development, these drugs could have applicability in a wide range of cancers and would represent an exciting and entirely novel approach to cancer treatment, which would be different, yet complementary, to other therapies available and in prospect. We are not currently aware of any competitors targeting HOX genes as a cancer treatment.