Development stage biotech company MetaStat Inc (OTCMKTS:MTST) just announced a high-profile, and potentially game changing addition to its board of directors. As of April 26, 2016, Jerome B. Zeldis, M.D., Ph.D, Chief Medical Officer of Celgene Corporation (NASDAQ:CELG) and Chief Executive Officer of Celgene Global Health, will join the Metastat board as its vice chairman. For a company the size of MetaStat, which had a market capitalization of a little over $3.42 million at last count, the addition of an industry professional with the standing of Zeldis is a validation of the potential of its lead diagnostics technology – something we will touch on in a little more detail shortly.
Who Is Jerome B. Zeldis?
Zeldis, holds one of the top positions at Celgene – an $85 billion healthcare behemoth – and as such, he represents an opportunity for MetaStat to forge a relationship, and going forward, perhaps a partnership, with big pharma. MetaStat’s technology is an oncology focus, and specifically in its current form, a breast cancer focus. Celgene markets some of the industry’s most well-known compounds for this indication – Abraxane, the injectable paclitaxel, being one example.
Prior to joining Celgene, Zeldis held academic professorship positions at Cornell and Harvard, and worked clinical positions at both Sandoz Research Institute and Janssen Research Institute – two of the leading research institutions in the US.
Why would somebody of the background, and current professional standing, choose to help a company the size of MetaStat with its development program? There’s only one real answer, and that is he believes the company’s pipeline can carry through to commercialization. So, with this said, what is MetaStat working on?
What is Metastat Working On?
As mentioned, the company has an oncology focus – specifically, an epithelial-based cancer diagnostics tool. Its lead candidate, the MetaSite Breast assay, is a breast cancer focus, designed to provide insight into the likelihood of solid tumor metastasis.
Why is this important?
Solid tumors very rarely lead to death. Instead, it is their metastasis (i.e. their spreading to the blood, or other areas of the body) that results in the complications most commonly associated with life-threatening late stage cancer. At present, there is no surefire way to determine whether a solid tumor is likely to metastasize, and so physicians will usually err on the side of caution and aggressively treat solid tumors with SOC therapies such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Alternatively, they will perform invasive surgery to attempt removal of the solid tumor, although, of course, this is not always possible. If the tumor was to metastasize, either of these options are valid and justifiable treatment methods. If not, however, they can result in unnecessary suffering for the patient. The ability to differentiate between these two scenarios could help patients avoid this unnecessary suffering, and that’s where the MetaSite Breast comes in.
“The diagnostics tool is rooted in what’s called the Mena protein. During the early stages of our development, this protein is responsible for helping cells to move from one location to another, and plays a key role in the development of the nervous system. Once we are developed, however, Mena protein expression declines”. Studies have shown that in certain solid tumors, Mena protein expression pick up. Further, the presence of the protein increases the invasiveness of cancer cells, and correlates with the likelihood of these cells spreading (i.e. metastasizing) beyond their solid state location. MetaStat has also located what it calls the MetaSite (hence the name of the technology), which refers to the window – for lack of a better phrase – through which cancer cells spread from one part of the body into the blood. MetaSite Breast uses a staining technology as a biomarker for both MetaSites and Mena proteins, and uses the degree to which both are present to calculate the chances of the tumor in question metastasizing. In short, these technologies, once developed will play a major role in not only mapping cancer but also in helping defeat it by applying the proper treatments in more localized environments.
This has happened before.
Back in 2012, development stage biotech Alliqua Biomedical Inc (NASDAQ:ALQA) announced that Zeldis had joined its board of directors, just as he has now done with MetaStat. Less than a year later, the two companies announced a transaction in which Celgene invested $6 million in Alliqua, and the latter received a license to one of Celgene’s lead wound care products. Since then, the relationship between the two companies has strengthened, and they now have a number of licensing agreements in place that will complement use of each others technology and healthcare products. It is safe to assume this partnership wouldn’t have come around so quickly, if at all, without Zeldis bridging the gap between the two companies.
Regardless of Zeldis’ motive, this demonstrates validation for Metastats’ technology and will offer the company many perks by having his guidance. The company now has a board member from the top of the healthcare industry, which in a space like development stage biotech can make a huge difference to a pipeline.