* Nigel Parker launches firm to develop gene therapies
* First project is bladder cancer treatment
By Paul Sandle
LONDON, Sept 20 (Reuters) - A start-up led by Nigel Parker, the former chief executive of Ark Therapeutics , has secured a contract to develop Merck & Co’s gene therapy portfolio, including a candidate to treat bladder cancer.
Parker said he was approached by the U.S. company due to his track record in developing, manufacturing and navigating the approvals process for gene therapies.
“(Merck’s portfolio) is important clinically, and this allows it to be developed with people who have been absolutely in the thick of gene therapy,” Parker said in an interview.
As part of the deal, Merck has taken an equity stake in Parker’s Finland-based start-up, FKD Therapies, which has reserves of $16 million, he said.
FKD will start developing the portfolio with an adenovirus designed to carry an interferon gene into the bladder wall cells, where it can express a protein.
Producing the protein within the bladder could increase its ability to penetrate tumour cells, Parker said, and a Phase I trial involving 14 patients had shown no tumour recurrence at three months for 43 percent of the patients.
FKD also had options to develop Merck’s gene therapy programmes for glaucoma surgery failure and for the treatment of solid tumours, he said.
Ark Therapeutics was a star of the gene therapy sector before Cerepro, its pioneering gene therapy medicine for brain cancer, was rejected by regulators in 2009. (Editing by Will Waterman)