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PRECOS - A CRO Focused on Providing Clinically Relevant Oncology Models

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In our latest blog we spoke to Jon Waterman-Smith, Business Development Manager at PRECOS, to learn more about the company, their services and the recent acquisition by Crown Biosciences. 

AB: Can you please tell me a little about PRECOS Ltd?

Jon Waterman-Smith (JWS): PRECOS (PRE Clinical Oncology Services) span out from the University of Nottingham in the middle of 2010 to operate as a stand-alone entity. The company had successfully operated as an independent business unit at the University for several years before the spin out, becoming a well-respected contract research organisation with a focus on performing advanced oncology studies using leading-edge technologies such as bioluminescence to create unique, clinically relevant models, which reflect the patient situation for each aspect of cancer progression encompassing pre-cancerous lesions, primary tumours and metastasis.

AB: You were recently acquired by Crown Bioscience. Can you tell us more about this?

JWS: We completed our M&A with Crown Bioscience in the middle of 2013, and now operate as a fully integrated member of the Crown family providing our unique model development capabilities for Crown clients as well as PRECOS clients. The relationship is mutually very beneficial. Crown is one of the giants in the industry having “industrialised” the process of performing oncology drug discovery and keeping the world’s largest collection of well-characterised Patient-Derived Xenograft models in constant passage ready for clients to use for drug screening in a preclinical setting. PRECOS has an excellent reputation both as a local oncology focused CRO for European Pharmaceutical and Biotechnology clients and on the world-wide stage as a developer of unique, advanced models. Bringing both organisations together has enables Crown to have an immediate footprint in Europe with a local base and access to PRECOS expertise in developing the next generation of oncology models for drug discovery. For PRECOS, we have access to Crown’s global capacity and expertise, both scientific and business, to more rapidly expand the use of PRECOS developed models and services on the wider, global stage. Together as one organisation we are enabling our clients to access the gold-standard in platform technologies and services for Oncology Drug Discovery globally.

AB: Please can you give a brief introduction to the oncology drug discovery services you provide?

JWS: Crown’s unique take on providing technology and expertise to our clients has been to not only provide a comprehensive drug discovery platform from target ID to the clinic, but also we have built the world’s largest, well-characterised collection of Patient-Derived Xenograft models – HuPrime©. This collection spans the majority of cancer types and provides models our clients can use for drug discovery and human surrogate Phase II-like studies in the preclinical setting - HuTrialsTM. The majority of these HuPrime© models are maintained in passage enabling clients to be able to rapidly screen candidates rather than wait 3-6 months for models to be revived from frozen. When PRECOS joined the Crown family, we brought a significant number of new PDX models to add to the Crown collection with novel mutational and response profiles. PRECOS’s expertise in developing models, particularly in vivo models, means we can rapidly develop models according to client’s needs. A good example of this would be where we develop models of resistance to a client’s lead candidate prior to the compound entering clinical trials by repeatedly challenging a relevant PDX model until we see resistance develop. This enables us to potentially understand mechanisms of action of resistance and how to potentially best combat resistance before the compound even enters the clinic, as well as compare and contrast multiple angles of treatment regimen and explore different approaches to combination therapy. This combination of one part of the organisation being able to focus on “assay/model development” which then feeds into the other part of the organisation which is honed to “efficient production” enables us to mutually provide a unique platform of services and model collections customised to meet each client’s needs – Personalised Drug Discovery.

AB: How does PRECOS’ technology, especially the PDX services, complement the technologies that have been developed by Crown Bioscience to provide a full preclinical evaluation of candidate cancer treatments?

JWS: At PRECOS we can deploy many technologies to advance our client’s drug discovery programs. In particular we are known for our bioluminescent models which focus or studying orthotopic models and how they metastasize. These models are well validated and give our clients a unique approach to rapidly evaluate their candidates at advanced stages of disease progression. We have also recently acquired the capability to provide Image-Guided Micro Irradiation treated models. The SARRP system from Xstrahl provides us with a unique research capability to develop models which are more representative of the treatment phases patients will go through. Over 50% of patients globally will receive radiation therapy as part of their treatment regimen. At PRECOS we are continuing to push to boundaries in developing commercially available models. These models not only have to be the product of novel academic ideas, but repeatable and reproducible in a commercial laboratory setting for drug discovery. For example, moving NSCLC PDX models into the orthotopic setting in the lung and using our advanced platform technologies to study the impact of different treatment regimens and measure the efficacy of candidates in a true in vivo setting.

AB: What do you see as the biggest challenges facing your industry over the next 5 years?

JWS: The biggest challenge we see if the next 5 years for Oncology Drug Discovery is turning around the attrition rate of novel candidates developed which fail in the clinical setting. 95% of compounds fail in the clinic and half of those are due to efficacy. The previous business model is unsustainable by all measures. We believe the use of our platforms to deliver more patient relevant models in the preclinical setting will significantly impact on improving the attrition rate in the clinic. We already see a dramatic increase in the use of our PDX collection to effectively perform Phase II-like trials in the preclinical setting, and believe in the next 5 years this will become the norm for drug discovery rather than the exception. Over 6,000 various Phase II trials in Oncology are taking place in the world today. With 95% of those likely to fail according to current statistics, we only need to have a small impact in improving the rate at which drugs fail by improving predictive preclinical screening to have a massive impact on the bottom-line of drug discovery companies. We believe the age of Personalised Drug Discovery is already upon us and is being driven by such platforms as HuPrime© and HuTrialsTM.

Jon Waterman-Smith was speaking to Ashley Board, Managing Editor for Technology Networks. You can find Ashley on  and follow Technology Networks on Twitter.