As we have gotten a deeper understanding of the underlying mechanisms of cancer, we have also been able to develop novel targeted cancer therapies. These therapies have transformed how we treat cancer because they do less damage to normal cells by going after the cancer cells’ inner workings, the specific pathway or mutation that sets them apart from healthy cells. However, although targeting one pathway is able to slow cancer growth, cancer cells often become resistant, and in many cases it becomes impossible to successfully treat the cancer.
The startup Essential Biotechnology, a spin-out from the Medical College of Wisconsin, has a new approach to cancer therapy. While current targeted therapies inhibit particular signaling pathways, the new startup's therapeutic agents take away the ability of cancer cells to survive by inhibiting multiple pathways. They discovered that a molecule, called CRR9, serves as a nexus in regulating tumor cell survival through multiple pathways. The protein appears on the surface of cancer cells in response to cellular stress, which is vital for it to survive. Essential Biotechnology has developed antibodies that target this nexus, making them sensitive to stress again. Preclinical studies have been promising and found the approach to be very effective, even against cancers that are traditionally recognized as “undruggable”.
The innovative approach has the potential of transforming cancer treatment. It could serve as a highly effective, and much needed, treatment option for hard to treat cancers with no adequate solutions, such as ovarian and pancreatic cancer. Most women with ovarian cancer eventually succumb to recurrent, resistant disease, and patients with pancreatic cancer have no effective options, with only six percent survival rate after 5 years. And since targeting the CRR9 protein inhibit multiple pathways, it is also less likely that the cancer cells will develop resistance to the treatment. In addition, the anti-CRR9 antibodies could re-sensitize cancer cells to other cancer therapies, making them more potent. The novel drug candidate could bring hope to thousands of patients who do not respond to first-line therapy.
Essential Biotechnology has previously won the top prize and $50,000 in the Southeast Wisconsin Healthcare Pitch event by Bridge to Cures, and is a finalist in the LES Foundation International Business Plan Competition, as well as the Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest. The startup has been granted a US patent for the innovative therapy, and has an international patent pending. They hope to start clinical trials within the next two or three years.