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Biotech Sponsoring Microbiome-Cancer Research

Gut microbes illustration

Gut microbes illustration (NASA.gov)

28 February 2018. A biotechnology enterprise is starting research collaborations with cancer labs in the U.S. and Germany to study interactions of gut microbes on responses of individuals to cancer immunotherapies. Second Genome Inc., in South San Francisco, California is sponsoring the studies with 4 institutions, but financial details of their agreements were not disclosed.

Second Genome discovers and develops therapies for diseases linked to the microbiome, particularly communities of bacteria and other microbes in the human gut. The company’s lead products, currently in early-stage clinical trials, are treatments for nonalcoholic steatohepatitis , or NASH, to treat tissue injury and inflammation in the liver, and inflammatory bowel disease. The company says these two disease targets barely begin to address the many connections of the microbiome to regulation of the human immune, central nervous, and circulatory systems. Second Genome employs computational techniques, including computer simulations, to identify gut microbes and related biomarkers for influencing disease states.

In the new project, Second Genome is partnering with Stanford Cancer Center in California, Roswell Park Cancer Center in Buffalo, John Theurer Cancer Center in Hackensack, New Jersey, and Ruprecht-Karls University, part of University of Heidelberg in Germany. The collaborations with Stanford, Roswell Park, and Ruprecht-Karls University are evaluating patients with melanoma, both in early and late stages, who are candidates for checkpoint inhibitor treatments. At the John Theurer Center, Second Genome is enrolling patients with multiple myeloma, lymphoma, and leukemia treated with combinations of checkpoint inhibitors after stem cell transplants. Checkpoint inhibitors block proteins that prevent the immune system from acting against cancer cells.

Further studies are planned with John Theurer Center and Roswell Park evaluating individuals with triple-negative breast cancer, assessing microbiome profiles of patients receiving standard therapies and those receiving neoadjuvant therapies to shrink tumors before starting the main treatments.

In these studies, patients are being asked to provide stool samples before, during, and after treatments, which Second Genome will analyze for changes in gut microbe composition, as well as bacterial proteins, peptides, and metabolites. This analysis will be correlated with patient outcomes and emergence of autoimmune side effects. The company and institutions expect to publish their findings from these studies, which aim to complement Second Genome’s current research, now in early discovery stage, on cancer immunotherapy.

“Immune checkpoint inhibitors have become the gold standard in treating certain forms of cancer,” says Karim Dabbagh, Second Genome’s chief scientist in a company statement,  “and we are only beginning to understand how the microbiome may affect patients’ response to treatment and the development of limiting side effects.” Dabbagh adds that the company has “a track record of finding conclusive links that demonstrate a causal role between disease and the microbiome at a mechanistic level and identifying pathways and molecules that mediate the effects for drug targeting.”

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