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Resigning CEO on the future of WntResearch: “It will be exciting to follow!”

Pernilla Sandwall, vd WntResearch presenterar bolaget

Resigning CEO on the future of WntResearch: “It will be exciting to follow!”

1 March, 2024

Upon writing her last CEO comment in the company’s Q4 report, WntResearch’s resigning CEO Pernilla Sandwall talks about a “transformative” 2023 for the company. Based on the company releasing new data, updating their NeoFox trial and aquiring a new CEO, the labelling seems appropriate. BioStock reached out to Sandwall for a comment.

Malmö-based WntResearch is developing Foxy-5, a peptide designed to mimic the function of the body’s own WNT5A protein. The objective is to develop a treatment that can prevent the ability of cancer cells to spread in the body and thereby avoid metastasis – the primary cause of cancer-related deaths.

NeoFox to confirm early observations

The first target indication is colon cancer, where the aim is to reach Proof-of-Concept, before adding additional indications. Here, the phase II study NeoFox is underway, looking to confirm previous ad hoc observations where a tumour-inhibiting effect was detected after as little as three weeks of treatment.

The study was adjusted to confirm these findings as quickly and cost-effectively as possible, and patient recruitment resumed last fall. Since then, the study has evaluated two doses and WntResearch recently announced that, upon approval from the safety committee, they will proceed with the highest dose in the next part of the study. Now, the goal is to recruit another 80 colon cancer patients, who will either be treated with Foxy-5 or be included in the control group. According to the company, there is great interest in participating in the study, with a high recruitment rate so far, which underlines the communicated timelines.

First read out by end of 2024

They plan for an initial read out of efficacy data after approximately half of the patient population has received treatment, i.e. by the end of 2024. The results will provide an important indication for the continuation of the study. Topline results are then expected to be presented in 2025.

In addition to the implications for the continued clinical development, the results will also form a key component in the ongoing business development activities. The positive data generated by previous studies has attracted great interest from the industry, which WntResearch intends to build on.

Teaming up with Business Sweden

As part of the business development advances, the company recently announced a collaboration project with Business Sweden, with the aim to establish one or more commercial partnerships with Japanese and South Korean companies. The agreement states that Business Sweden will help establish contact with potential partners. According to WntResearch, the focus on Japan and South Korea was motivated by making the best use of Business Sweden’s network and deep industry knowledge in these markets.

Strengthened finances

Another recent activity with high importance was the rights issue carried out in January, which brought approximately SEK 31 million to the company. In addition, the issue included two series of warrants, TO 7 and TO 8. The warrant series are exercised at the end of 2024 and in April 2025, respectively, and if things go as planned, they will add significant capital injections to the company.

Comments from the CEO

With the year-end report, Pernilla Sandwall hands over the keys of WntResearch to incoming CEO Per Norlén. Before then, BioStock took the opportunity to talk to Sandwall about the report and her view on the company’s future prospects.

Pernilla, if you look back on your time as CEO of WntResearch, what are your key take-aways?

– The positive ad hoc observations and that we were able to change the study so that we now measure precisely these parameters in a forward-looking manner. This is what it is like in drug development; for the data to be approved by regulatory authorities and other players, it must be pre-defined and determined before initiating the study.

– Moreover, we have gained the trust of the shareholders and managed to add additional capital to the company in this difficult market situation.

– Finally, I value all the interactions with talented colleagues, physicians and initiated owners, which have been interesting, albeit sometimes difficult, but always rewarding and inspiring.

In the dosing study, recruitment went faster than expected. Does this affect your expectations of the recruitment for the next phase?

– My expectation is that patient recruitment will go faster now than it did during the pandemic. I see several reasons for this; we have the ad hoc observations from patients in place, and we increased the dose. I believe that the latter means that both doctors, other study staff and patients have an increased interest in the study.

– Furthermore, the study is easier for patients to participate in now that it only covers the time before operation, without any extended follow-up period.

– The fact that the pandemic is over also allows hospitals to devote more time to clinical trials such as ours. Combined, all these factors all but guarantee a faster recruitment rate than we have seen and set our timelines after.

If we focus on your collaboration with Business Sweden; what makes the Japanese and South Korean markets so attractive?

– There are many examples of very good collaborations of this kind. There is the possibility of both global and regional agreements, which does not close any doors. Business Sweden’s network in these markets, alongside its deep industry knowledge, is a fantastic asset for us.

What is your strategy for finding a partner in Europe or the USA?

– In these markets we have direct contact with the companies we view as potential partners. We participate in large meetings and conferences, which provides solid opportunities for dialogues with our potential partners. For example, both SwissNordicBio and BIO Europe Spring are coming up shortly.

Looking ahead, what will be the focus of WntResearch as we move into spring and summer?

– Firstly, the meetings I mentioned above are crucial. My successor Per Norlén will present the company at SwissNordicBio next week in Zurich. We will also focus on the study and patient recruitment by visiting most of the clinics during the second quarter, which I believe will be appreciated by everyone involved.

Since this will be your last interview with BioStock as CEO of WntResearch, I must ask about your vision for the company and the project in the longer term. What do you dream of Foxy-5 being able to achieve?

– Foxy-5 has the potential to develop into a completely new type of cancer treatment without troublesome side effects. The data we have from our ad hoc observations is very promising and I believe that good study results from the ongoing trial will lead to a large interest from major pharmaceutical companies, who will be able to develop Foxy-5 into a drug.

– I dream that this will happen, partly for the sake of all patients, but also for everyone who has been engaged in this project – either in the development or through funding of the research. It will be exciting to follow!

The content of BioStock’s news and analyses is independent but the work of BioStock is to a certain degree financed by life science companies. The above article concerns a company from which BioStock has received financing.

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