December 17

Trials will test genetic medicine technology that delivers drugs directly to tumours

EDMONTON – An Edmonton biotechnology company will start clinical trials on a new cancer therapy next year after receiving a $109-million cash infusion from an American pharmaceutical company. 

The move into clinical trials is a significant step for Entos Pharmaceuticals, the two-year-old company headed by University of Alberta oncology researcher John Lewis.

"We're developing a gene therapy for prostate and lung cancers and we expect to start our first Phase 1 human clinical trial in 2020," Lewis said on Thursday.

The technology involves using gene therapy in drugs that are well-tolerated by patients, Lewis said. Researchers have figured out how to deliver genetic material directly into "the site of action" — in the case of cancer, the tumour.

While the technology could be used for any new genetic medicine, Lewis' lab is focused on cancer treatments.

"My lab has focused on asking the question, 'Which specific genes are responsible for the spread of cancer?" Lewis said. "We've identified 11 specific genes where, if you block them, you block the spread or metastasis of cancer.

"So there's a really compelling case to develop a genetic medicine to block any one of those targets."

The $109 million comes from a publicly traded American pharmaceutical company, which is not being named for competitive reasons, Lewis said.

The U.S. company is "co-developing" the drug based on the Entos drug-delivery technology, he said.

"Alberta has a growing — but small — biotech health-care industry," he said.

"Obviously if we can create an environment where these kinds of companies can thrive and compete on an international stage, I think that will be really important."

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