Celator, a biotech company based in Princeton South in Ewing, has been bought by the Irish pharmaceutical company, Jazz, for $1.5 billion. The deal was struck less than a year after Celator announced positive results from a Phase 3 clinical trial of VYXEOS, a compound for treating leukemia, a cancer of the blood and bone marrow. Celator stock skyrocketed 71 percent on the news.
VYXEOS was tested to treat patients with high-risk acute myeloid leukemia. The drug is based on Celator’s “Combi-plex” platform, and is the combination of cytarabine and daunorubicin, two commonly used drugs. Celator’s innovation was to formulate the drug combination in such a way that they maintain a certain ratio to one another after injection.
Celator has partnered with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society in developing the drug, and has taken about $8 million in economic development aid from the state of New Jersey to fund the research. In addition to leukemia, Celator is developing compounds to treat colorectal cancer as well as tumors occurring in several other forms of cancer.
The FDA has given a friendly reception to the drug, granting it both orphan drug and breakthrough drug status, both of which can speed the approval process along. It has received similar green flags from the FDA’s European counterpart. In last year’s clinical trial, Vyxeos boosted the survival of patients an average of 3.6 months versus patients who only received standard care. It also reduced the death rate of patients in the study by 31 percent.
Celator’s research is based on the idea that cancer drug cocktails are most effective when combined in certain ratios. For example, VYXEOS fixes its two ingredients at a 5:1 ratio. Using nanotechnology, the drugs are encapsulated in a liposome — a tiny bubble — so that they stay in that ratio until they reach the cancer that they are treating. According to Celator, conventionally injected chemotherapy drugs can become out of balance with one another by the time they go through the circulatory system and reach a tumor.
“The planned combination of Jazz and Celator is highly complementary, as both companies are dedicated to bringing differentiated therapies to patients who have high unmet medical needs,” said Celator CEO Scott Jackson. “We believe that Jazz Pharmaceuticals’ clinical and commercial expertise in hematology/oncology and existing international infrastructure will help realize the value of VYXEOS as a treatment to patients with AML”
Celator was founded in 1999 by Lawrence Mayer, currently chief scientific officer, and Marcel Bally of the British Columbia Cancer Agency. The headquarters was on College Road East in the mid-2000s before moving to Princeton South in 2013. It also has a location in Vancouver, British Columbia.
The transaction with Jazz is expected to close in late 2016. Celator did not immediately say if its headquarters would remain in Princeton South following the merger. Jazz, headquartered in Dublin, has a portfolio of approved drugs and research in the pipeline that includes sleep and cancer drugs.
“Celator Pharmaceuticals is a strong strategic fit with Jazz Pharmaceuticals. VYXEOS will further diversify our product portfolio and is complementary to our clinical and commercial expertise in hematology/oncology,” said Bruce Cozadd, Jazz CEO.