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Biotechs Partner on Cancer Stem Cell-Gene Therapies

Chemotherapy drip


23 March 2015. Two biotechnology companies are combining their expertise in neural stem cells and gene delivery to develop new cancer therapies that the parties say would be more effective with fewer side effects than chemotherapy drugs used today. While GenVec Inc. in Gaithersburg, Maryland will participate economically in the collaboration with TheraBiologics Inc. in Arcadia, California, financial and intellectual property details of their agreement were not disclosed.

The companies initially plan to enhance TheraBiologics’ TBX02, an experimental cancer treatment for delivery with GenVec’s gene therapy techniques. TheraBiologics commercializes research by co-founder Karen Aboody, a researcher at City of Hope medical center in Duarte, California that specializes in cancer care. Aboody studies neural stem cells as a vehicle for cancer therapies, with early findings showing the ability of neural stem cells to quickly find and penetrate tumors.

TBX02 is made of engineered neural stem cells, or NSCs, designed to emit carboxylesterase, an enzyme that converts the cancer chemotherapy irinotecan into SN-38, a compound believed to be 1,000 times more toxic to cancer cells than unmodified irinotecan. Development of TBX02 as a treatment for brain tumors is supported by an $18 million grant from California Institute of Regenerative Medicine, and currently in preclinical stages.

GenVec’s technology harnesses adenoviruses to deliver genetic therapies. Adenovirus vectors are benign, naturally occurring microbes that can infect cells, but do not integrate with the cell’s genome or cause disease, and generate a mild immune response. This delivery technology is being tested to deliver healthy genetic material to treat inherited diseases, but also as a vehicle for cancer therapies.

The partnership aims to incorporate Genvec’s gene delivery technology to add more potency to TBX02, as well as provide TheraBiologics with a manufacturing process for the treatments. GenVec is expected to offer its experience in vector construction with technical and regulatory support, while TheraBiologics will be responsible for all other development costs.

“NSCs selectively target invasive cancer sites resulting in tumor-localized chemotherapy production, sparing the rest of the body from toxic side effects,” says Aboody in a joint statement.  “GenVec’s technology provides us with a well-validated process for modifying these cells to reach their full therapeutic potential.”

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