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Gary Gardiner Jr. battled cancer for 18 months, trying conventional and radical new therapies. Today, Gardiner and his wife, Teresa, are advocates for CAR T-cell therapy, a treatment in which a patient’s own cells are genetically altered to attack the cancer.
Families just like the Gardiners rely on companies researching and developing new treatments for cancers. Several leaders in this category are developing new and novel treatments that utilize breakthroughs now in testing including ESSA Pharma Inc. (NASDAQ: EPIX), Genocea Biosciences (NASDAQ: GNCA) and Synlogic, Inc. (NASDAQ: SYBX).
Also blazing a trail is Oncolytics Biotech Inc., (NASDAQ: ONCY) (TSX: ONC), a development stage biotech company working on an immuno-oncology virus called pelareorep. Pelareorep is a safe and well-tolerated treatment that has the potential to bolster the power of T-cells fighting cancer.
Here’s how Oncolytics’ approach works: cancer grows in our bodies when our immune systems do not recognize tumors as foreign or a threat (known as self vs not self). The cancer tells our immune system and T-cells to ignore the tumor alone instead of directly attacking it. Immunotherapies – which includes checkpoint inhibitors – encourage our immune systems to recognize and kill the cancer. Unfortunately, as low as 1 in 5 patients respond to checkpoint inhibitor therapy.
This is where Oncolytics Biotech utilizes pelareorep. Pelareorep has the potential ability to increase the percentage of patients who respond to immunotherapy. It is being studied now for potential combination with Opdivo® from Bristol-Myers Squibb Company, Roche’s Tecentriq®, Pfizer’s and Merck’s KGaA’s Bavencio®, as well as Keytruda ® from Merck & Co. Inc.
Gary and his doctors tried chemotherapy and considered a bone marrow transplant in his initial fight against the disease. Those treatments didn’t work, and his cancer evolved to resist chemotherapy.
His only option was frightening, CAR-T cell therapy.
CAR-T is new. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved it in October 2017 for lymphoma patients whose cancers don’t respond to at least two kinds of treatment. When the Gardiners considered it in spring 2018, they learned patients had died during clinical trials.
T-cells are white blood cells that are part of the body’s immune system. Their job is to destroy infected cells. But cancer cells can hide and disguise themselves from T-cells, explained Dr. Sudeep Menachery of Hematology Oncology Associates of Fredericksburg.
CAR-T therapy involves removing a person’s own T-cells and altering them genetically so they will sense a protein in the cancerous tumor and attack it.
The problem is those attacks carry risks.
A Virginia newspaper talked to Dr. Aaron Rapoport, a Maryland oncologist who helped pioneer T-cell immunotherapy for blood cancers. He explained that when the CAR-T cells start attacking, other immune cells react. The reactions can lead to organ failure or neurological damage.
Despite the risks, Gary went through with the treatment on May 7, 2018. He was only the fourth person to receive the treatment at the University of Maryland’s Greenebaum Comprehensive Cancer Center in Baltimore.
Because of the risk, about 15 doctors monitored Gary’s progress. Fortunately, he suffered only minor, treatable reactions.
“Thankfully, he’s done well,” Rapoport said. “It’s enormously gratifying to see patients like him who didn’t have other treatment options and … to see the benefit, the impact on his life and family and on his community at large, given his strong desire to use his experience to help and support others.”
The Gardiners work with a company, which develops immunotherapy treatments, to arrange speeches at conferences or meetings with prospective patients. Because the treatment is so rare, it’s helpful to hear “directly from people who have received it,” a company spokesman said.
Gary said he’s thrilled to have been part of something so revolutionary that it may change the course of cancer treatment.
“It’s like sci-fi, it really is,” he said. “I feel really lucky that it was available, that I was eligible, that our insurance covered it and that my body reacted the way it did. We had everything on our side.”
Today, the Gardiners are trying to help other cancer patients.
“We’re doing everything we can do—articles, videos, we spoke in Washington about making CAR-T more affordable,” said Gary. “We want to give back to the community that saved my life.”
Oncolytics Biotech is also working to improve options for patients. Right now, Oncolytics is working is to obtain regulatory approval for pelareorep as quickly as possible. At the same time, it wants to expand pelareorep into commercially valuable new treatment areas with pharmaceutical partners.
The company is engaged in four ongoing studies now with Pfizer/Merck KGaA, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Merck and Roche. These studies involve combinations with checkpoint inhibitors for the treatment of breast cancer, multiple myeloma, and pancreatic cancer.
Other companies are positioning themselves to capitalize on new and similar technologies, or potentially combine treatments where possible. Leading companies capable of playing an important role in developing these include:
ESSA Pharma Inc. (NASDAQ: EPIX) engages in the development of small-molecule drugs for prostate cancer. The company recently acquired the U.S. biopharmaceutical company Realm Therapeutics plc.
Genocea Biosciences (NASDAQ: GNCA) is a biopharmaceutical company developing personalized cancer immunotherapies. The company recently announced that the Journal of Clinical Oncology has selected the company’s GEN-009 clinical results presentation at the 2019 ASCO Annual Meeting as a top 10 featured abstract in immuno-oncology.
Synlogic, Inc. (NASDAQ: SYBX) is a clinical-stage company applying synthetic biology to beneficial microbes to develop novel, living medicines. The company recently announced a platform collaboration to speed up the development of Synlogic’s pipeline of synthetic biotic medicines using Ginkgo’s cell programming platform. Synthetic biotic medicines are microbes genetically engineered to counter the biology that drives diseases such as hyperammonemia and forms of cancer.
To learn about new treatments and companies offering developments, see the story at USA News Group: https://usanewsgroup.com/2020/02/24/why-biotechnology-companies-are-so-important/
USA News Group
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