Officials from SISENE toured the cancer clinic and nearby Cancer Research Center on Thursday. They will be aided by a $100,000 grant from the Georgia Research Alliance to help in developing the company.
They hope to develop a protein called NOV c-ter as a potential treatment for glioblastoma multiforme, a deadly tumor that strikes 18,500 people a year in the U.S., according to GHSU. There is only one drug approved to treat it, and the median survival time is about 18 months.
The protein appears to inhibit another protein called andrenomedullin that is involved in the growth of new blood vessels.
So far in testing in mice, it appears to inhibit the tumor’s ability to form new blood vessels and “we do get the starvation of the tumor and an anti-tumor effect indirectly,” said Dr. Olivier Rixe, a neuro-oncologist and director of the experimental therapeutics program in the Division of Hematology/Oncology at GHSU.
There do not seem to be toxic side effects in the mice, he said.
“It is always a concern, of course, inhibiting a normal protein,” Rixe said. “But it seems to be quite specific because this adrenomedullin is overexpressed in the tumor and is not overexpressed in normal tissue.”
The next step could be testing the agent in primates, Rixe said. There is a lot more work to be done to understand the process and how the drug behaves in the body, said Dr. Jean Marsac, the CEO of SISENE.
“All of these things have to be known (to show) how the drug is working,” he said.
GHSU offers exciting expertise, such as working in zebrafish models, that can provide quick and relevant data on those issues, Marsac said.
“That’s a great model at this step” in development, he said.
If the company were trying to do such collaboration in Europe, it might have to go to several countries to find that kind of expertise, said Dr. Martine Garreau, the general manager of SISENE.
“Here, you have the concentration of all of this scientific expertise,” she said.
“This is a platform of excellence,” Marsac said, adding that the GHSU researchers are known worldwide.
Developing the agent in Augusta will also make it easier to get approval from the Food and Drug Administration, Garreau said.
The company made the connection to GHSU through Rixe, who is French and worked in Paris with a company co-founder, Dr. Jean Plouet, but now it will be a partner with GHSU, Rixe said.
“We will hopefully make this company, a French company, a Georgia company,” he said.