Survival rates for most cancers are steadily increasing thanks to a better understanding of the underlying mechanisms of cancer and the human body, new drugs, delivery techniques and improved treatment strategies. Over the past few years, immunotherapies have been making headlines around the world and it is by some even believed to be what could finally cure cancer. However, manipulating the immune system can result in potentially serious side effects, and the big challenge is to guide the immune cells to attack cancer cells, while leaving healthy cells alone.
The San Diego-based startup Aspyrian Therapeutics is developing a first-in-class cancer treatment, called photoimmunotherapy. Photoimmunotherapy is a new precision targeted approach invented at National Cancer Institute by Hisataka Kobayashi and Peter Choyke. It use near-infrared light to activate a toxin attached to monoclonal antibodies that bind to the surface of tumor cells. This provide the specific targeting of cancer cells, without damaging the surrounding healthy tissues.
Aspyrian has secured the exclusive license for the technology from the National Cancer Institute. Their first product, RM-1929, is currently in clinical phase 1 testing to treat recurrent head and neck cancer. The drug targets a specific cancer antigen that is highly expressed in carcinomas, not only allowing treatment of head and neck cancers, but a number of different cancer types, including esophagus, lung, colon and pancreas. The photoimmunotherapy platform also work with multiple types of monoclonal antibodies, and it could therefore enable the targeting of a broad range of cancers.
Photoimmunotherapy has the potential to transform the standard of care of a number of cancer areas, solving one of the key challenges of current cancer treatments. The treatment is highly specific to cancer cells, and the near-infrared light has caused no detectible phototoxic effect among antibody conjugates that are not bound to the surface of cancer cells. This could mean a novel first-in-class targeted treatment platform with minimal side effects, significantly improving patient outcomes and survival. Its wide applicability, and the exclusive licensing rights, give Aspyrian the potential of providing cancer patients with new options to battle and cure the disease.
The startup recently raised $40 million in Series B financing from the Japanese billionaire, CEO of Rakuten and a Director of Aspyrian Therapeutics’ board, Hiroshi Mikitani. The company intends to use the funds to accelerate clinical development of the antibody conjugate RM-1929 in head and neck cancer, and to explore its use in other cancer types as well.