Thousands of cancer patients have been treated with immune checkpoint inhibitors since the first of its kind was approved in 2011. The product is designed to block the production of proteins that prevent the body’s immune system from acting in the presence of cancer.
Although checkpoint inhibitors hold immense promise for some patients, many fail to respond to treatment. Researchers are still trying to figure out why that may be – some hypothesize that tumors littered with mutations, “hot” tumors, are more likely to respond to immunotherapy than tumors with fewer mutations, or “cold” tumors.
OncoSec Medical (NSDQ:ONCS) is betting that its electroporation technology can help convert cold tumors to hot ones, boosting the promised effects of immunotherapy for the cancer patients who have failed treatment with checkpoint inhibitors.
“The technology is a very clever marriage between biology and physics,” CEO Daniel O’Connor told Drug Delivery Business News.
The company’s therapy involves injecting plasmids that code for immune-triggering proteins directly into a patient’s tumor. To help facilitate the genetically-engineered DNA’s entrance into the cell, OncoSec’s ImmunoPulse device delivers a sequence of short-duration electrical pulses to the tumor.
OncoSec is evaluating its system in a number of on-going clinical trials, focusing on melanoma and triple-negative breast cancer. At this week’s annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research, the company touted data from a Phase I breast cancer trial showing that its electroporation device combined with intratumoral plasmid is safe and tolerable.
“I like to have more than one shot on goal, but I also think you have to be careful not to lose focus. Developing drugs is not easy. It takes nearly all of your focus and attention to do it well,” O’Connor said.
The company has also worked to improve upon its technology. In a study published earlier this year in Nature Gene Therapy, researchers demonstrated that by modifying electroporation conditions, they could boost the efficiency of the electroporation process.
The future is bright for cancer patients, O’Connor explained, even for those who have thus far not reaped the benefits of immunotherapy.
“We’re seeing a really profound movement toward enabling the body’s own immune response to push back against the cancer, as opposed to using chemotherapy or radiation or even surgery,” he added. “Those systems are all still needed and are great for some patients. They provide much needed treatment, especially in the primary care setting. I think the early changes in how chemotherapies got better and we understood them over time, that same dimension is occurring in immunotherapies now.”
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