For the last 20 years, Pamela Contag has studied cancer. And in that time, the world’s understanding of cancer has changed dramatically.
“I remember when people were saying ‘One gene, one protein,” which we now know is wrong,” she told Drug Delivery Business News. “And then we thought cancer was a disruption in proliferation and really it’s about modulating programmed cell death and stem cells and the tumor microenvironment. And in fact, there’s this huge immunity component to the disease process.
“So we’ve changed a lot from thinking about it as a proliferative disease to really understanding what systems go wrong to allow these cells that normally would die to continue on to make a tumor,” she said.
With decades of academic work and industry experience under her belt, Contag founded BioEclipse Therapeutics in the hopes of bringing therapies to patients with especially tricky forms of cancer.
The company’s solution combines activated immune cells with a cancer-killing virus – two techniques that, when combined, work together to boost the therapy’s efficacy, according to Contag.
The immune cells, which bind directly to the tumor, act as ferries for the oncolytic virus. Within hours, Contag touted, the virus can kill off an entire tumor.
Alone, the immune cells and the oncolytic virus can act as individual therapies, “but the efficacy is actually relatively low,” Contag noted. But when combined, the two cancer-killing methods work well together.
Combining immunotherapies has not been an easy task for the industry. To make the combination therapy worthwhile, the two products have to complement one another, the chief executive explained.
“If you do a combination, oftentimes you have multiple mechanisms of action and if you have synergistic mechanisms of action, that’s great. But if you’re attacking one pathway with two different therapies, a lot of times some toxicity can form. So I think when we do these combinations, you have to be really careful that the combination is either additive or synergistic. Not that it actually is more toxic,” Contag said.
There are hundreds of possible combinations to be tested with the array of immuno-oncology drugs that are currently under development, Contag added. But she’s excited by BioEclipse’s combination therapy, CRX-100, because of its potential to work with a broad patient population.
“Today’s medicines are very specific and precise. And so that often means we’re dealing with smaller and smaller subsets of patients, especially with an immuno-oncology therapeutic that really has to be directed at a single biomarker,” Contag said. “One of the things I really like about [CRX-100] is that it addresses a really broad set of indications because it’s not honing to one specific biomarker on one cancer cell type.”
Contag and her team at BioEclipse are gearing up for a Phase I trial this year at the Stanford Women’s Cancer Center to test CRX-100 in women with ovarian cancer. Many women with ovarian cancer eventually become resistant to treatment, Contag said, and the unmet need she saw in this patient population inspired her to work on developing a solution.
“One of the things that we’ve realized as we’ve tried to look across the field of immuno-oncology is that there’s a huge unmet need for patients that have refractory disease and need a treatment right now,” she said. “And we want to remember that there’s a patient at the other end of every decision we make.”