Divide & Conquer developing new class of cancer therapeutics to disrupt cell-to-cell communication

  • $13 Million Series A Financing from Medicxi
  • Development pipeline based on co-founders’ research into disconnecting tumour cell networks
  • Initial focus on glioblastoma, expanding to other solid tumours
  • New Nature paper builds on 2015 paper by co-founder in same publication

Divide & Conquer, a biotechnology company formed in 2018 with a £10 million (approximately $13.1 million) Series A financing from Medicxi. has left stealth mode to mark the publication of another paper in Nature co-authored by one of its founders, Prof. Frank Winkler of Heidelberg University.Leveraging Prof. Winkler’s ground-breaking research published in Nature in 2015 and again this month, Divide & Conquer aims to open a new front in the war on cancer by disrupting the cell-to-cell communication mechanisms of solid tumour cells. The new research shows that the ability of cancer cells to form “social networks” makes them almost invincible, which is why current drugs fail to cure many patients.

The company’s initial focus is on glioblastoma, a lethal form of brain cancer, where cancer cells have been shown to communicate with each other via structures called tumour microtubes.

Co-Founder David Grainger, PhD commented, “There is mounting evidence, accumulated over decades, and now taken to the next level in Prof. Winkler’s papers in Nature, that solid tumours can leverage this network effect to evade all attempts to kill them. We now have compelling evidence that it can be disrupted, with the potential to render the most lethal tumour types curable.”

Professor Miroslav Radman, the third co-founder of Divide & Conquer, was one of the first academic scientists to propose that mutation-riddled tumours must share materials between themselves, and with healthy cells, in order to survive and propagate. Bringing together his expertise with that of Prof. Winkler has allowed Divide & Conquer to discover a new class of cancer therapeutics that focus on disrupting these networks.

“There is no shortage of biotech start-ups targeting cancer, but this research from Professors Radman and Winkler represents some of the most exciting work in the area that I’ve seen,” said Moncef Slaoui, PhD, a Director at Divide & Conquer. “Glioblastoma is a devastating disease and one of the greatest unmet medical needs. The evidence is now compelling that these networks lie at the heart of this cancer’s resistance to treatment. At Divide & Conquer we aim to develop new medicines that disrupt such communication between cancer cells and bring these to clinical trials in patients.”

Nature is publishing Prof Winkler’s latest research concurrently with an article on a related topic by a team at Stanford Medicine led by Michelle Monje, MD, PhD, Associate Professor of Neurology and Neuro-Oncology, emphasising the growing body of research in this area.

Dr. Slaoui concluded, “Beyond glioblastoma, we envision expanding to other solid tumours such as brain metastasis, the hardest to treat form of breast cancer (so-called “triple negative”), pancreatic cancer and others. Indeed, we predict that the drugs we develop may be most effective in tumours that are currently the most difficult to treat.”

Schematic illustration of neurogliomal synapses and their
functional role in brain tumour progression


The left of the scheme illustrates the neuronal network, the gliomal network, and their interconnectivity. A magnified scheme of a neurogliomal synapse is shown in the centre. The consequence of NGS function for brain tumour biology is illustrated on the right.

Source – BusinessWire

Venkataramani V et al. (2019) Glutamatergic synaptic input to glioma cells drives brain tumour progression. Nature [Epub ahead of print]. [abstract]

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