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Theracrine Announces Publication Identifying Potential Novel Cancer Spread Target

- Findings highlight essential nature of the VCAM-1/VLA-4 interaction in metastatic breast cancer -

CAMBRIDGE, Mass.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Oct 17, 2011 - Theracrine, Inc., the first biopharmaceutical company focused on the discovery and development of novel therapeutics to treat cancer spread, today announced the publication of research from the lab of scientific founder Joan Massagué, Ph.D. in Cancer Cell that elucidates the fundamental nature of cancer spread as well as the role of tumor-stromal interactions. The research specifically demonstrates the central role of VCAM-1 and VLA-4 in the survival and growth of metastatic breast cancer cells. These new findings provide for a novel avenue by which the biology of cancer spread can be interrupted to reduce ongoing survival signaling and thereby improve cancer patient outcomes.

Dr. Massagué is the Chairman of the Cancer Biology and Genetics Program at the Sloan Kettering Institute at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and is a Theracrine founder and scientific advisor to the company. Co-authors on the paper include Qing Chen, M.D., Ph.D. and Xiang Zhang, Ph.D., both members of the laboratory.

“Interactions with the tumor stroma are key for the survival of disseminated cancer cells. We found that VCAM-1 is aberrantly expressed in metastatic breast cancer cells and transduces key pro-survival signals when engaged by macrophages. This signaling enables disseminated cancer cells to survive and thrive in distant organs such as the lung,” commented Dr. Massagué. “We believe that the VCAM-1/VLA-4 interaction will be conserved across other metastatic target organs such as the bones as well as other cancer types. The identification of these essential mechanisms of metastatic tumor growth is critical to the generation of new treatments directed against cancer spread.”

The spread of cancer cells from a primary site to distant organs is a frequent event in cancer that ultimately plays the central role in patient survival. Successful cancer spread requires migratory capacity, the formation of a malignant stroma, and the ability to elicit essential survival and growth signals. Theracrine's founders have led the field in dissecting the pathways critical for cancer spread.

This newly published research demonstrates that Vascular Cell Adhesion Molecule-1 (VCAM-1) provides a conserved survival advantage to breast cancer cells that infiltrate leukocyte-rich microenvironments such as the lungs. VCAM-1 on the cancer cells associates with Very Late Antigen-4 (VLA-4) expressed on metastasis-associated macrophages. The VCAM-1/VLA-4 interaction activates Akt and provides pro-survival signals including protection from apoptosis. Blocking VCAM-1/VLA-4 led to cancer cell death, suggesting that small molecule or antibody inhibitors of VLA-4 or VCAM-1 would be effective in treating existing metastases.

“These findings add to Theracrine's exciting portfolio of potential cancer spread targets,” said Jim Barsoum, Theracrine's Chief Scientific Officer. “We are aggressively translating breakthrough discoveries such as this into new therapeutics addressing cancer spread for the first time, and plan to have Theracrine's first IND filed in late 2012.”

The publication by Chen, Zhang and Massagué is entitled, “Macrophage binding to receptor VCAM-1 transmits survival signals in breast cancer cells that invade the lungs” and was published in the October 17th, 2011 edition of Cancer Cell.

About Cancer Spread

More than ninety percent of cancer related morbidity and mortality is directly related to cancer spread. Cancer spread, comprising local invasion and metastasis to distant organs such as the lungs, bones, liver and brain, is a newly appreciated field of biology that provides a novel approach to treating cancer. Cancer spread is marked by fundamental changes in cellular biology that allow it to grow and survive beyond tumor margins, both locally and systemically. This biology is a heavily coordinated set of activities in which cancer cells co-opt factors involved in normal biological processes such as embryonic development and immunology to induce migration and establish addictive survival signals through interactions between the tumor and its microenvironment. Identifying key factors that drive cancer spread provides a powerful intervention point for the discovery and development of cancer therapeutics.

About Theracrine

Theracrine, Inc. is a private biopharmaceutical company dedicated to the discovery and development of novel therapeutics in the emerging field of cancer spread. To drive these efforts, Theracrine has built a robust target and drug discovery platform integrating novel molecular target identification and validation, rapid generation of lead agents, and the evaluation of drug candidates in state-of-the-art animal models of invasion and metastatic cancer. Theracrine's biology platform has produced multiple proprietary molecular targets and the company is rapidly developing therapeutics against the highest priority targets. Theracrine, based in Cambridge, MA was founded by Flagship VentureLabs along with the scientific leaders in the biology of cancer spread including Joan Massagué, Ph.D., Robert Weinberg, Ph.D., Doug Hanahan, Ph.D. and Mike Rosenblatt, M.D. For more information, please visit

About Flagship Ventures

Realizing Entrepreneurial Innovation is the mission of Flagship Ventures. The firm operates through two synergistic units: VentureLabs which invents and launches transformative companies, and Venture Capital, which finances and realizes innovative, early-stage companies. Founded in 2000, and based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Flagship Ventures manages over $900 million in capital. The Flagship team innovates and invests in three principal business sectors: therapeutics, medical technologies, and sustainability/clean technology. For more information visit


Contact: Theracrine, Inc.
Steven Kelly, 617-218-1618


Posted: October 2011