Cancer remains the counterpoint of the march of medical progress that has marked human history over the past 200 years.
Last year, 600 920 people in the United States died of cancer and 1.7 million received an initial diagnosis of the disease. Globally, one in six people die of cancer, according to the World Health Organization.
Over the last decade, research in this area has broadened the possible treatments for the disease of surgery (which was the only option up to the 20th century), radiotherapy, chemotherapy and surgery. ; hormone therapy.
Among the most promising of these new treatments are those that attack the functions of the tumor itself. New epigenetic therapies, therapeutic viruses, novel nanoparticles and immunotherapies are relevant to external responses to cancerous tumors – sequencing mutations that can lead to cancerous tumors; create new pathogens that attack only cancer cells; build new particles that attack cancer cells; or stimulate the body’s natural immune system ability to attack cancer cells. In contrast, these treatments are aimed at stopping tumor growth by focusing on inhibiting the biological processes that promote this growth.
Tradewind Bioscience, which begins today at the Y Combinator Winter Demonstration Day, takes this approach.
While research into these potential new therapies is only gaining ground in scientific journals (most studies have been published in the last three months), Thaddeus Allen and Ron Buckanovich, co-founders of Tradewind, have mostly envelope after studying different cancers for more than a decade.
Allen began his research about 14 years ago at the University of California, San Francisco, under the tutelage of Dr. J. Michael Bishop, cancer researcher, Nobel laureate, where he was studying EGFL6, affected the growth of lung cancer cells.
Bishop’s laboratory was one of the focus of cancer research, but the UCSF was not the only one to innovate in cancer research. A half-continent on the outside, Buckanovich was doing his own studies on the role played by the same protein in the growth of ovarian cancer cells in his laboratory at the University of Michigan .
“He had filed a patent with the University of Michigan,” Allen said about the first time that he discovered Buckanovich’s research. “ I found it on Google patents and I found the patent first.I contacted the technology transfer office and they put me in contact with [him]. Probably the best thing I did during this adventure was to form this relationship with Ron and the University of Michigan. “
Buckanovich published his research on the link between ovarian cancer and EGFL6 protein in 2016, and that was the shock that Allen needed to reach and get started to work seriously on Tradewind.
“I have thought long and hard about how to proceed,” says Allen. “This protein is extremely important in the way cancers survive and spread in the body, I had this idea four years ago … and it took me a long time to get the courage to say okay, let’s go together. “
In the meantime, Allen was quietly accumulating a body of research on how the protein could affect lung cancer cells. “ I wanted to keep things secret until things progressed to a certain point, a point of inevitability,” he says. “ I really want to be the one doing this job.”
The fact that Tradewind therapy can potentially treat two very different types of cancer is remarkable because cancer is considered a very special disease. It is a parasite specific to the genetic make-up of its host. In fact, the specificity of cancer for an individual is what makes the disease so difficult to fight for the body.
“We take the opportunity that they really touched something that, contrary to what happens downstream, is in the physiology of these cancers,” says Diego Rey, partner of Y Combinator. focused on health care and biotechnology startups. “ When you go downstream in these processes [treatment] it’s a bit like a mole,” says Rey.
Rather than attacking cancer, Tradewind’s therapy attempts to attack the root of the disease. How it develops and spreads throughout the body.
“We were able to unravel [some] the main things that [the protein] did,” says Allen. “It regulates cancer stem cells … those that allow cancer to develop … And I t plays a very important role in the survival of cells.”
In primary tumors – the initial cancer mutations – Allen and Buckanovich discovered that the protein they identified plays a major role in controlling stem cells that allow the tumor to grow. This same protein is important for keeping cancers alive when they spread in the body.
“The secreted protein feeds on cells and allows them to live out of the tumor and find new foci in different tissues,” Allen explains. “ What the antibody can do … it can bind to the secreted protein and now the protein can no longer feed on the cancer cell and bind to the receptors it is supposed to bind to. now he can not provide this survival signal to the cancer cell. “
The expression of this protein in a patient may also be a useful indicator of the potential to develop cancer. “If you have a lot of this protein, it’s very likely that you will succumb to cancer,” says Allen. “[And] i It is really the most metastatic cancers.These are the deadliest ones.These are the ones that will spread around the body to different tissues.”
For Allen and Buckanovich, the development of their therapy means that patients might someday receive an intravenous infusion of antibodies that would inhibit the production of the protein that they have identified, rather than getting a bolus incredibly toxic chemotherapy or radiation therapy.
“It’s actually what Y Combinator asked us to refocus on,” Allen said. “We have been so busy trying to convince people that the target is fantastic.”
Once out of Y Combinator Allen predicts that his new business will need 7 to 10 million dollars to move to a first phase of clinical trials in the next three years.
Buckanovich and himself believe that the treatment could be effective beyond their fields of expertise in lung cancer and ovarian cancer.
“Tumors use EGFL6 to tell cancer cells to migrate and then divide, and you tell cancer cells to metastasize,” says Buckanovich. “[But] We also showed that 39, it helps cancer cells to initiate it. “
Buckanovich says that’s the key to what he and Allen are trying to do. “The protein is made not only by tumor cells, but is produced by the host,” he says. “Think of it as soil.If cancer is the seed … if we can prevent that there is fertile soil for the growth of these seeds.It may be more applicable than just the subset of cancers that make this protein … In an ideal world, this drug would be preventative.We could be able to treat [cancer] with a benign course of antibodies. “