Ebola, Fast-tracking treatments

The death toll from the Ebola virus is continuing to grow alarmingly. On September 9th the World Health Organisation (WHO) said it had recorded 4,293 cases in five west African countries, of which at least 2,296 people had died. But even the WHO’s experts believe that is an underestimate as many people are suspected to be dying at home. By some estimates 12,000 people have been infected with Ebola so far. The scale of the present outbreak, together with the fear and suffering it is causing, has resulted in a burst of scientific activity to find new treatments and vaccines. Some of these medicines look promising. But to contain the spread of Ebola, scientists and health officials will have to bypass many of the existing rules that govern the delivery of new drugs, and develop potential remedies with unprecedented speed.
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Cancer Research UK, CRT Partner with Asterias to Trail Novel Immunotherapy Treatment for Lung Cancer

CANCER RESEARCH UK and Cancer Research Technology (CRT), the charity's development and commercialisation arm, have reached an agreement with Asterias Biotherapeutics, Inc. (OTCBB: ASTY), a biotechnology company in the emerging field of regenerative medicine, to take forward Asterias' novel immunotherapy treatment AST-VAC2 into clinical trials in subjects with non-small cell lung cancer. AST-VAC2 represents the tenth treatment to enter Cancer Research UK's Clinical Development Partnerships (CDP) scheme, with six having progressed into the clinic to date. CDP is a joint initiative between Cancer Research UK's Drug Development Office (DDO) and Cancer Research Technology, to develop promising anti-cancer agents which pharmaceutical companies do not have the resources to progress through early phase clinical trials. AST-VAC2 is a non-patient specific (allogeneic) cancer vaccine designed to stimulate patients' immune systems to attack telomerase, a protein that is expressed in over 95 percent of cancers but is rarely expressed in normal adult cells.
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61 Percent Fall in Female Genital Warts Due to Free HPV Vaccine

GPs in Australia are managing 61 per cent less cases of genital warts among young women since the introduction of the national human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination program, a new study from the University of Sydney reveals. The study, which reviewed more than a million patient encounters between 2000 and 2012, showed a significant year-on-year reduction in the management rate of genital warts in women aged 15-27 years since the vaccination program started. The findings are published in PLOS One journal. The HPV vaccination program was introduced in 2007, and the rate of genital wart presentation fell dramatically from 4.33 per 1,000 encounters pre-program (2002-2006) to 1.67 per 1,000 encounters in the post-program period (2008-2012).
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F.D.A. Allows First Use of a Novel Cancer Drug

The Food and Drug Administration on Thursday approved the first of an eagerly awaited new class of cancer drugs that unleashes the body’s immune system to fight tumors. The drug, which Merck will sell under the name Keytruda, was approved for patients with advanced melanoma who have exhausted other therapies. Cancer researchers have been almost giddy in the last couple of years about the potential of drugs like Keytruda, which seem to solve a century-old mystery of how cancerous cells manage to evade the body’s immune system. The answer is that tumors activate brakes on the immune system, preventing it from attacking them. Keytruda is the first drug approved that inhibits the action of one of those brakes, a protein known as PD-1, or programmed death receptor 1.
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What are the 10 Possible Cures and Vaccines for Ebola?

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Doctors from around the world are gathering in Geneva to discuss the possible usage of ten vaccines and cures for Ebola, as the virus continues to spread with ever-increasing speed. The World Health Organisation (WHO), which is hosting the conference, said earlier this week that 1,900 people are now known to have died of Ebola – mostly in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Seven people have died in Nigeria, which has counted a total of 22 cases, while one case has been confirmed in Senegal. And at least 30 more people have died in a separate outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
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Ascend Biopharmaceuticals Provides Update on Clinical Trial Program for Lead Immunotherapy Products

Ascend Biopharmaceuticals, a Melbourne-based immunotherapy company, has released an update on the clinical trial pipeline for its lead immunotherapy products treating basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and breast cancer. The Company plans to begin a Phase 2 clinical trial on ASN-002, an injectable immunotherapy for basal cell carcinoma (BCC), by H1 2015. Interim results from the trial are expected in mid-late 2015. Ascend has also announced plans to begin a Phase 1b study on a therapeutic cancer vaccine for breast cancer, ASN-004, in the second half of 2015. Both trials are dependent on the completion of fundraising.
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UConn Researcher’s Nanoparticle Key to New Malaria Vaccine

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Image courtesy of Peter Burkhard

A self-assembling nanoparticle designed by a UConn professor is the key component of a potent new malaria vaccine that is showing promise in early tests.

For years, scientists trying to develop a malaria vaccine have been stymied by the malaria parasite’s ability to transform itself and “hide” in the liver and red blood cells of an infected person to avoid detection by the immune system. But a novel protein nanoparticle developed by Peter Burkhard, a professor in the Department of Molecular & Cell Biology, in collaboration with David Lanar, an infectious disease specialist with theWalter Reed Army Institute of Research, has shown to be effective at getting the immune system to attack the most lethal species of malaria parasite, Plasmodium falciparum, after it enters the body and before it has a chance to hide and aggressively spread.

     
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Ludwig Cancer Research and CRI collaborate on VentiRx’s Investigational Immunotherapy

The nonprofits Ludwig Cancer Research (Ludwig) and the Cancer Research Institute (CRI) announced today an agreement with VentiRx Pharmaceuticals Inc., a clinical stage biopharmaceutical company, to conduct a clinical trial with motolimod (VTX-2337) combined with other immunotherapy agents available to Ludwig and CRI through other industry partnerships. VentiRx will provide motolimod, the company's lead immuno-oncology agent, for the study, which will be conducted by Ludwig and CRI through their jointly coordinated CVC Trials Network.
Motolimod specifically binds and activates toll-like receptor-8 (TLR-8). TLR8 is found inside dendritic cells, which are patrolling immune cells that instigate, direct and fuel the immune response against infectious agents and malignant cells. When activated by motolimod, TLR-8 prompts dendritic cells within tumors to secrete factors that fuel a cascade of immune responses. This draws the innate immune system's natural killer (NK) cells into the fray, promotes the antibody-mediated destruction of malignant cells and, ultimately, supports the activation of T cells that specifically target the cancer.
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Madison Vaccine to be Tested in Combination Prostate Cancer Treatment

Madison Vaccines, a Madison, WI-based startup developing immunotherapies for prostate cancer, will get a chance to see how well its lead vaccine can shrink tumors when teamed up with another drug. The Phase I trial will be led by Madison Vaccines co-founder Doug McNeel, an oncologist and professor of medicine at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. McNeel and a team of university researchers were awarded a $1.5 million grant to conduct the study. The Movember Foundation is providing the funding through the Movember-Prostate Cancer Foundation Challenge Award program.
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Attacking a Rare Disease at its Source with Gene Therapy

Treating the rare disease MPS I is a challenge. MPS I, caused by the deficiency of a key enzyme called IDUA, eventually leads to the abnormal accumulation of certain molecules and cell death. The two main treatments for MPS I are bone marrow transplantation and intravenous enzyme replacement therapy, but these are only marginally effective or clinically impractical, especially when the disease strikes the central nervous system (CNS). Using an animal model, a team from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania has proven the efficacy of a more elegant way to restore IDUA levels in the body through direct gene transfer. Their work was published this week online in Molecular Therapy.
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