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Interview with Race Oncology’s CEO Phil Lynch and CSO Dr Daniel Tillett
November 3, 2022
RAC, Race Oncology
Race Oncology (ASX:RAC)
We recently spoke with Race Oncology‘s CEO Phil Lynch and CSO Dr. Daniel Tillett.
And check out the in-depth report on RAC we just published here!
See full transcription below.
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Stuart: Hello everyone, my name is Stuart Roberts and I’m from Pitt Street Research. And with me today is Mr. Philip Lynch and Dr. Daniel Tillet from Race Oncology ASX:RAC. Gentlemen, good afternoon.
Dr. Lynch: Good afternoon, good to see you.
Stuart: We’re in Melbourne. It’s the 19th of October, 2022. Gentlemen, it’s fair to say, it’s been a great year for Race Oncology. Multiple pieces of good news flow. For a drug program centered around the treatment of multiple cancers and headed towards, potentially, a blockbuster drug, Bisantrene. Philip Lynch, I’ll start with you. In a previous life, you worked with Johnson and Johnson. This is your first step, I suspect in a long time, into a smaller company. What attracted you to come and work at Race Oncology?
Dr. Lynch: Well, Stuart, fundamentally, it’s healthcare. We’re still in the healthcare business and what attracted me was that, when I learned and understood about the multiple opportunities we had for Bisantrene, or Zantrene, as we call it, it was kind of like, well, you know what? If I can both learn, and contribute to how we could progress that drug, hopefully into patients, and hopefully into making a difference, that’s something to be excited about.
Stuart: Right. Now, Bisantrene had a long development history, before it came to Race Oncology. It had been developed way back in the 1970s, if I recall. Talk to us about how it ended up with Race Oncology.
Dr. Lynch: Well, the Race Oncology founder and another partner of his brought it back to market by buying the IP and then running an IPO on that business. So they brought it back with an ambition to progress it through acute myeloid leukemia with a named-patient program in Europe. When we, and I say we including Daniel and others in the team, looked at that opportunity, they realized there were other opportunities, so they developed a broader program, largely AML-centered. But more recently, we’ve had a couple of particular discoveries, tailwinds, some that are gratuitous, but frankly, we’re blessed with broad opportunity now.
Stuart: Right. Now Phil, let’s talk about the original opportunity in AML. This was a drug with a lot of clinical history. Race’s big break through in 2020 was, at that time, a small study, conducted by Be’er Sheva Medical Center in Israel, proving that this drug had some serious benefits for patients with AML. Talk to us about that breakthrough, and then talks about how the program expanded.
Dr. Tillet: Yeah, so that was interesting. So it had been known from a lot of trials being done in the 1980s that it was effective.
Dr. Tillet: But it wasn’t known whether it was still effective in a modern environment. Patients today are much more heavily treated.
Dr. Tillet: They’ve been through many more rounds of therapy, and it was unknown whether it would still be relevant to today’s market. And it turned out in a really heavily treated patient population in Israel that it actually worked really well still and at the same sort of level of efficacy that was shown in the past, which is really quite amazing. And then the other discovery that was part of that was side of things where it was discovered that in a subtype of AML, it worked really well and that’s what we’re now running a trial here in Australia.
Stuart: Right. Acute myeloid leukemia isn’t the biggest patient population, nonetheless, it is the basis of a significant market opportunity.
Dr. Tillet: Yeah.
Stuart: We’re talking potentially in the billions, right?
Dr. Tillet: Well, it’s quite a large market for AML, but it’s also a proof of concept around some of other opportunities. Because we have such a long history, clinical history, we can advance the drug pretty rapidly in that particular market. And time to market, the amount of time you do a lot of discovery. You can go straight in, start inter-phase two, start collecting data straightaway, which is really attractive from a drug development point of view.
Stuart: Right. So Daniel, we’ll stick with you. A big breakthrough for the shareholders of Race Oncology, not to mention the patients ultimately, is your discovery of the mechanism of action of Bisantrene.
Dr. Tillet: I wish I could say I discovered it. Unfortunately I didn’t…
Dr. Tillet: Exactly, no I didn’t discover it. But I did recognize when I saw it and I was so excited when I saw it. I thought, “Wow, this explains so much of the history of why it worked, where it worked.” And it just opened up a massive opportunity for the drug. It really transformed the whole company, the direction of the whole company. It’s, you know, luck is more important than brains.
Dr. Tillet: In this case, we got lucky.
Stuart: Right. Change favors a prepared mind, right?
Dr. Tillet: Yeah. Well, I was totally unprepared. I knew nothing about this area of research. It’s so new that when I was in cancer research team, years ago, this hadn’t been discovered so nobody knew about it. It’s only been discovered in the last few years how important this is.
Stuart: We’re talking about the gene FTO, right?
Dr. Tillet: Yeah, FTO. The whole M6A RNA methylation regulation system, that is all totally new. I think in the last five years it’s become recognized that it’s a major area. It’s just opened up….to be at the forefront of this is just truly an amazing opportunity.
Stuart: Because a barren FTO turns out to be relevant in a whole range of cancers well beyond AML.
Dr. Tillet: Yeah, it’s actually every cancer anyone’s looked for. There’s a group of them that FTO is really important in driving their cancer.
Dr. Tillet: So it’s a universal type treatment. That’s not specific to AML or some other kind of rare cancer. No, this is across all cancers, lung, breast, everything.
Stuart: So Philip, you’ve got a big problem. You’ve now got to organize multiple big trials in order to begin to capture some of this value for patients and the shareholders at Race Oncology because it’s a range of cancers.
Dr. Lynch: I mean, yeah fortunately it’s a positive problem to have.
Stuart: Right, I’d like to have that problem.
Dr. Lynch: Yeah, and we’re lucky. The shareholders rewarded us, frankly, because they supported our raise last December, $20-29 plus million and that allows us to fund both the FTO Solid Tumor Program, the AML programs that we’re moving to Europe, and equally the cardioprotection program which is the one we’ve spoken about a lot this week.
Stuart: Right, so which bring us to an important point. The original development idea precedes Race Oncology for Bisantrene, is that there are various anthracyclines that can treat AML. This is the one that doesn’t damage the heart.
Dr. Lynch: Correct.
Stuart: So, that’s an important issue in cancer treatment. A lot of patients will be rid of cancer and suddenly their life expectancy is shortened by heart damage. You don’t have that problem.
Dr. Lynch: Yeah, I mean this is a phenomenal opportunity for Race Oncology. and we’re excited. So you’re right, the legacy of our drug was that it was less cardio-toxic. We knew that. What we didn’t yet know is that if you use in combination with other anthracene, like doxorubicin for that example, that, in combination, it would not only reduce the damage, but it would offset it or protect it. So we now have an opportunity where if you use the two drugs, i.e. bisantrene and doxorubicin, you have an opportunity to minimize damage, still get a better cancer effect. That;’s important.
Stuart: We know that doxorubicin works.
Dr. Lynch: It’s the world’s largest selling chemotherapeutic. So we’re looking at the opportunity to say to oncologists, “Look, if you add our drug, continue your current regimen, add our drug to that regimen, and then that modification in behavior will create a better cancer outcome and also reduce cardio damage.” That’s a significant opportunity in terms of size, scale, but important to patients, it means hopefully, we’ll cure cancer better but we’ll also have less cardiac events in the future.
Stuart: Right. So Race Oncology is coming up to a good 2023. Because we’ve got multiple clinical studies of Bisantrene moving forward, amongst other things, to test this cardio-protection issue, amongst others. What can we look forward to in the next 12 months?
Dr. Lynch: I’ll start with cardio, I think, because that’s where we finished. We need to complete our planning for how we’ll actually launch that trial and we look forward to updating the market on that shortly. The FTO program, the clinical program for that is both complicated, but it’s complicated for good reason because we got to make sure we do it in a way that’s both cost-effective but is effective in respect to what we learn. We’re trying to prove out significant opportunities, so which cancer type do we go after? We’ve got a couple of high prospects and I know Daniel has views on what it should be but we need to figure that out and make sure it’s the right call. And we’ve equally got reports out on our AML studies from Israel, but also in Australia and we hope to have Europe underway next year as well.
Stuart: As you alluded to before, the company’s well-funded from previous raisings in order to be able to achieve some of these ambitions, which is also a great problem to have as well, right?
Dr. Lynch: Well it’s a great problem but again, thank you to the shareholders, because we communicated a strategy, they endorsed it, they supported it, and we’re able to go out and execute it accordingly, and that’s a great position to be in.
Stuart: Right, now Daniel, you’ve also spoken about building a pipeline beyond Bisantrene. What’s the thinking there?
Dr. Tillet: So FTO and the whole M6A is actually really important to a whole lot of diseases outside of cancer, particularly metabolic diseases. Things like Type 2 Diabetes, obesity, and they’re major markets themselves. So the properties of Bisantrene, while they targert FTO pretty well, it’s not really suited for Type 2 Diabetes drugs, so you need a different type of drug. We’re able to take the learnings we’ve learned, we’ve built a lot of in-house understanding of this space and use that to create alternative drugs that have the same impact on FTO but can be utilized in other indications, so it’s really kind of a blue sky. Relatively low cost. Relatively not that distracting, it’s all very clinical. Thankfully, scientists are a lot cheaper than clinicians and so you can get a lot done and they can generate a lot of value for the shareholders we have. It’s a difficult area, and we know why it’s such a difficult area. So we might as well take advantage of the knowledge we have.
Stuart: Right. So Pitt Street Research has recently published some research on Race Oncology. You can check that out on pittstreetresearch.com as well as the Race Oncology websites. Gentlemen, a great opportunity. Well done on what you and the rest of the Race team’s achieved. Good luck for 2023. There’s a lot of patients that are looking forward to some great outcomes so they can benefit as well. Thank you.
Dr. Lynch: Thank you
Dr. Tillit: Thank you.