Member Spotlight: Q&A with RXi Pharmaceuticals

May 01, 2018

Every month, MassBio spotlights a member company and the great work they’re doing to advance the life sciences industry and support the patients we serve. This month we spoke with Geert Cauwenbergh, Dr.Med.Sc., President and CEO of RXi Pharmaceuticals, a biotechnology company developing immuno-oncology therapeutics based on its self-delivering RNAi (sd-rxRNA®) therapeutic platform.

Tell us about your organization and your current initiatives.  

RXi Pharmaceuticals is a small biotechnology company located in Marlborough that is focused on developing the next generation of immunotherapies to treat cancer.  We have developed a proprietary self-delivering RNA Interference RNAi (sd-rxRNA®) therapeutic platform that can penetrate immune cells and selectively block the expression of proteins to enhance the activity of these cells.  Our current development initiatives focus on improving adoptive cell transfer (ACT) methods. For example, we can weaponize therapeutic immune effector cells to attack cancer through immune checkpoint inhibition by sd-rxRNA.

How does your organization’s activities help patients now and into the future?

RXi is well positioned to be successful in the area of immuno-oncology with the potential to deliver its first new treatment option for patients in approximately 2-4 years, following the initiation of a Phase 1 trial. The development landscape for cancer therapeutics has improved substantially over recent years as we have seen by active government support (Cancer Moonshot) and expedited reviews by the FDA and recent approvals in ACT (Novartis, Kite).  Importantly, RXi has demonstrated that its proprietary sd-rxRNA therapeutic platform is safe and effective by direct local injection in Phase 2 clinical trials.   Therefore, we are leveraging our proven technology platform, through internal efforts and external collaborations, to evaluate and develop a number of new treatment options as quickly as possible.  Cancer is a global killer and cancer deaths will continue to rise with an estimated 11.4 million patients dying in 2030.  New treatment options in this area are crucial to the public at large.

What do you see as the biggest challenge facing the life sciences industry today?

As a publicly traded microcap company, attracting long-term value investors and maintaining sufficient capital to support development initiatives can be a challenge.  Many small companies face this hurdle and, in some cases, may thwart efforts in bringing new therapies to patients.

From a patient perspective, those battling terminal cancers have limited options with most having severe side effects and inherent limitations and getting them access to new and innovative therapeutics is another big challenge.  Today, there are approximately 240 immuno-oncology therapeutics in the clinical pipeline or awaiting review by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).  This is a remarkable time in terms of the advances seen in cancer care.  However, given the complexities, researchers are just beginning to understand the true power of immuno-oncology therapies.   RXi has already established that its sd-rxRNA platform is effective and safe in humans and is on the cutting edge of developing novel treatments aiming to extend the lives of those battling cancer.

What’s next for your organization / what are you focused on in the coming year?

sd-rxRNA compounds are currently being developed to target PD-1, TIGIT and other important targets in immune effector cells. There is a potential for the sd-rxRNA approach to enter the clinic within the next 12 to 18 months aiming to become a key player in a large market with significant unmet needs.  We have a number of ongoing collaborations with leading international cancer centers and cancer-focused biotech and biopharmaceutical companies to explore and advance cell-based therapies with the sd-rxRNA platform for checkpoint inhibition as well as for inhibition of targets involved in cell differentiation and exhaustion pathways with the aim of improving fitness and potency of the cell product. Importantly, our goal is to provide patients battling terminal cancers with powerful new treatment options that attack cancer going beyond current treatment modalities.

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