Q&A: Targeting cancers

You founded Oxford BioTherapeutics in 2004. What makes it different? 

We have created, to our knowledge, the only existing detailed molecular library of the cancer-immune cell interface (or synapse). We have used this to develop a number of novel drugs targeting various sub-types of different solid and hematological cancers, including those refractory to conventional treatment.

How does it work? 

We use this library, in conjunction with our unique cancer target discovery methodology, to identify various novel cancer cell and immune cell receptors. These receptors are expressed uniquely on either cancer cells or on immune cells within tumours, but not on normal cells. Identifying these cancer-specific receptors has helped us to develop a number of innovative drugs that exclusively target cancer cells or immune cells within a tumour.

Bringing a new precision to cancer drug targeting? 

Yes. Our programme differs from the more conventional, generalist approach which targets all fast-growing cells, including healthy ones such as bone marrow, reproductive and hair cells. Our hope is that, using our approach, we can minimise severe systemic side effects which, as yet, remain one of the challenges and concerns of conventional chemotherapy.

So your approach could point to a kinder, softer future with a massive reduction in harrowing side effects in cancer treatment? 

This is what we expect. The potential benefits are tremendous. As is well known, side effects from most conventional cancer chemotherapy can cause debilitating and sometimes life-threatening, complications. To put this into perspective, a recent study by Public Health England and Cancer Research UK has placed 30-day treatment mortality figures for systemic chemotherapy for breast and lung cancer at three in one hundred patients (Wallington et al, Lancet Oncology 2016).

What about the current state of your pipeline? 

Initial testing of our drug candidates has revealed anti-tumour action in patients who have not responded to state-of-the-art immuno-oncology therapies. We already have a number of candidate drugs targeting solid and blood cancers in our pipeline, two of which are in clinical trials in Europe.  A third will be tested, for the first time, in patients next year.

What more can you say about your immuno-oncology discovery platform?

Of critical importance is our discovery of a novel mechanism by which cancer cells escape from immune surveillance and what we can do to prevent this. We have also finessed our research tools to mimic, as closely as possible, the tumour environment within the patient while conducting our laboratory studies. In addition, we work with cancer cells and corresponding immune cells within the tumour obtained from human biopsy specimens.

This eliminates the need for animal models, the biology of which differ from humans. In turn this limits the extrapolation of possibly misleading animal findings to human populations. We have taken great care to ensure that our research is both patient centric and humane.

How do you see targeted cancer treatment evolving and the future role of Oxford BioTherapeutics in the field? 

This depends on what you mean by “targeted”. Patient selection is a key part of our strategy. Certain large pharma companies have shown the importance of patient selection to achieve better response rates. We use a tissue staining methodology on biopsy specimens to identify the presence of molecular target(s). Patients possessing these targets are candidates for our drugs. In addition to better response rates, patient selection translates in lower healthcare costs, which is an important consideration in the context of new medicines.

If by targeted therapy you mean drugs that specifically target cancer cells while not harming normal cells, we have already contributed much in the field and I am confident that we will carry on doing so – we have established a very strong platform remarkably quickly.

For more information please visit www.oxfordbiotherapeutics.com