PALO ALTO, Calif. and AUCKLAND, New Zealand, May 24, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- Centella Therapeutics, Inc., a subsidiary of Varian Medical Systems, Inc. (NYSE: VAR), and Auckland UniServices Ltd. of Auckland, New Zealand, today announced that they have entered into a licensing agreement granting Centella exclusive rights to CEN-209, a novel investigational drug designed to enhance the effectiveness of radiotherapy and chemotherapy when treating solid tumors that are hypoxic—or oxygen-starved—and therefore resistant to standard forms of radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

CEN-209 is selectively activated in areas of low oxygen often found within solid tumors.  These areas develop within tumors due to their rapid growth, which impairs the blood vessels bringing nutrients and oxygen, resulting in hypoxia.  

"Hypoxic tumors are generally resistant to radiotherapy and to chemotherapy, and there is no effective treatment for such tumors today," says Thorsten Melcher, PhD, President of Centella Therapeutics.  "Hypoxia occurs in most types of solid tumors, but not necessarily in every patient with a given tumor type. For example, in lung cancer patients, roughly 50 percent of tumors have hypoxic regions.(1)  In the future, successful treatment of hypoxic tumors will likely require identifying affected patients and giving them a hypoxia-specific drug, like CEN-209, in addition to standard treatment."(2)

Radiotherapy works by damaging tumor cells' DNA, but only in well-oxygenated areas, whereas CEN-209 is designed to 'switch on' and damage the DNA only of hypoxic cells, leaving other cells alone," Melcher adds.  "Thus, the two treatment approaches have the potential to complement each other, and CEN-209 is specifically designed to be preferentially used in combination with radiotherapy."

Professor William Wilson and Associate Profes