Sci­en­tists find un­ex­pect­ed an­ti-can­cer ac­tiv­i­ty in range of non-on­col­o­gy drugs — study

As the sec­ond lead­ing cause of mor­tal­i­ty glob­al­ly, the lu­cra­tive field of can­cer treat­ment has elicit­ed a fren­zy of drug de­vel­op­ment and bil­lions in ven­ture fund­ing. But a new study sug­gests that can­cer-killing com­pounds may be lurk­ing in the ex­ist­ing ar­se­nal of non-on­col­o­gy med­i­cines.

By an­a­lyz­ing thou­sands of FDA-ap­proved drugs and com­pounds that have been proven safe in clin­i­cal tri­als, sci­en­tists at the Broad In­sti­tute of MIT and Har­vard and Dana-Far­ber Can­cer In­sti­tute found near­ly 50 com­pounds — in­clud­ing drugs for di­a­betes, in­flam­ma­tion, al­co­holism and even a treat­ment for arthri­tis in dogs — with pre­vi­ous­ly un­de­tect­ed an­ti-can­cer ac­tiv­i­ty.

Todd Gol­ub

“We thought we’d be lucky if we found even a sin­gle com­pound with an­ti-can­cer prop­er­ties, but we were sur­prised to find so many,” said Todd Gol­ub, chief sci­en­tif­ic of­fi­cer and di­rec­tor of the Can­cer Pro­gram at the Broad, Charles A. Dana In­ves­ti­ga­tor in Hu­man Can­cer Ge­net­ics at Dana-Far­ber, and pro­fes­sor of pe­di­atrics at Har­vard Med­ical School, in a state­ment.

The study, pub­lished in the jour­nal Na­ture Can­cer, em­ployed the Broad’s Drug Re­pur­pos­ing Hub, an­a­lyz­ing 4,518 drugs against 578 hu­man can­cer cell lines from the Broad’s Can­cer Cell Line En­cy­clo­pe­dia. Af­ter tag­ging each cell line with a DNA bar­code, the re­searchers ex­posed each pool of bar­cod­ed cells to a sin­gle com­pound from the re­pur­pos­ing li­brary and mea­sured the sur­vival rate of can­cer cells.

Some of the can­cer-slay­ing com­pounds kill in un­fore­seen ways, study lead au­thor Steven Corsel­lo said. Corsel­lo is an on­col­o­gist at Dana-Far­ber and founder of the Drug Re­pur­pos­ing Hub.

Most ex­ist­ing can­cer drugs work by sti­fling pro­teins — but some of the can­cer-killing com­pounds Corsel­lo et al came across ap­peared to work by ac­ti­vat­ing a pro­tein or sta­bi­liz­ing a pro­tein-pro­tein in­ter­ac­tion. For ex­am­ple, the team found that near­ly a dozen non-on­col­o­gy drugs killed can­cer cells that ex­press a pro­tein called PDE3A by sta­bi­liz­ing the in­ter­ac­tion be­tween PDE3A and an­oth­er pro­tein called SLFN12.

Steven Corsel­lo

The re­sults of the analy­sis — which scoured near­ly half of all drugs ever test­ed in hu­mans — sug­gests that some non-on­col­o­gy drugs could be tak­en straight in­to clin­i­cal test­ing in can­cer pa­tients, al­though sci­en­tists will need to en­sure the can­cer culling ac­tiv­i­ty of these drugs is ob­served at con­cen­tra­tions that are tol­er­a­ble in hu­mans. It is al­so im­per­a­tive to con­firm that the pre­dic­tive bio­mark­ers iden­ti­fied in cell lines rep­re­sent dis­tinct pop­u­la­tions of hu­man tu­mors, the re­searchers cau­tioned.

“In con­trast to the repo­si­tion­ing of ex­ist­ing drugs for new in­di­ca­tions, the…re­sults re­port­ed here al­so rep­re­sent start­ing points for new drug de­vel­op­ment. In par­tic­u­lar, when the an­ti-can­cer ac­tiv­i­ty of a drug oc­curs via an off-tar­get mech­a­nism, it is like­ly that fur­ther op­ti­miza­tion for this new tar­get will re­sult in more po­tent and se­lec­tive drug can­di­dates,” the re­searchers wrote.

Re­pur­pos­ing drugs on pur­pose (or by ac­ci­dent) has yield­ed some suc­cess — that the process in­volves large­ly de-risked com­pounds, low­er de­vel­op­men­tal costs, and briefer time­lines don’t hurt ei­ther.

Aside from as­pirin’s car­dio­vas­cu­lar ben­e­fits, Vi­a­gra is an­oth­er heav­i­ly cit­ed ex­am­ple. The drug was orig­i­nal­ly be­ing test­ed as a treat­ment for coro­nary hy­per­ten­sion — but a pesky side ef­fect felt by pa­tients in tri­als cul­mi­nat­ed in its even­tu­al ap­proval as an erec­tile dys­func­tion drug.

Then there’s the seda­tive thalido­mide — which gained no­to­ri­ety af­ter its link to se­vere skele­tal birth de­fects trig­gered its with­draw­al in 1957. How­ev­er, years lat­er it was deemed ef­fec­tive as a can­cer treat­ment, even breed­ing the de­vel­op­ment and ap­proval of even more suc­cess­ful de­riv­a­tives, such as Cel­gene’s block­buster Revlim­id.

Mean­while, Mer­ck’s Vioxx — which was un­cer­e­mo­ni­ous­ly tak­en off shelves af­ter its link to dou­bling pa­tients’ risk of heart at­tack and stroke emerged — could resur­face as a gener­ic treat­ment for a side ef­fect ex­pe­ri­enced by he­mo­phil­ia pa­tients.

But akin to tra­di­tion­al drug de­vel­op­ment, drug re­pur­pos­ing has al­so seen its share of set­backs. Two ex­am­ples of late-stage fail­ures in­clude a bid to use the an­ti­his­t­a­mine, la­trepir­dine, as a treat­ment for Hunt­ing­ton’s dis­ease, as well as the pur­suit of re­pur­pos­ing the an­tibi­ot­ic, cef­tri­ax­one, as a med­i­cine for ALS.

BY­OD Best Prac­tices: How Mo­bile De­vice Strat­e­gy Leads to More Pa­tient-Cen­tric Clin­i­cal Tri­als

Some of the most time- and cost-consuming components of clinical research center on gathering, analyzing, and reporting data. To improve efficiency, many clinical trial sponsors have shifted to electronic clinical outcome assessments (eCOA), including electronic patient-reported outcome (ePRO) tools.

In most cases, patients enter data using apps installed on provisioned devices. At a time when 81% of Americans own a smartphone, why not use the device they rely on every day?

Image: Shutterstock

Eli Lil­ly asks FDA to re­voke EUA for Covid-19 treat­ment

Eli Lilly on Friday requested that the FDA revoke the emergency authorization for its Covid-19 drug bamlanivimab, which is no longer as effective as a combo therapy because of a rise in coronavirus variants across the US.

“With the growing prevalence of variants in the U.S. that bamlanivimab alone may not fully neutralize, and with sufficient supply of etesevimab, we believe now is the right time to complete our planned transition and focus on the administration of these two neutralizing antibodies together,” Daniel Skovronsky, Lilly’s CSO, said in a statement.

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Mer­ck scraps their $425M Covid-19 drug in lat­est pan­dem­ic set­back

Seven months after paying $425 million cash to acquire it, Merck is scrapping a Covid-19 drug they hoped could provide one of the only treatments for severe hospitalized patients.

Merck’s decision comes after they faced significant and unexpected regulatory delays in getting the drug, known as MK-7110 or CD24Fc, across the finish line. The Big Pharma licensed the drug under the belief that it had already shown sufficient benefit in severe patients and they could help scale it up far faster than OncoImmune, its former owner, could. But in February, the company reported that the FDA insisted Merck run a new trial before seeking authorization.

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Severin Schwan, Roche CEO (Georgios Kefalas/Keystone via AP Images)

Look­ing to ce­ment its lead in packed MS mar­ket, Roche's Ocre­vus un­corks new da­ta in ear­ly-stage pa­tients

Among a positively jam-packed multiple sclerosis market, Roche’s Ocrevus has managed to stand out for what the Swiss drugmaker is calling the most successful launch in its long history. But in order to press its advantage, Ocrevus is looking to earlier-stage patients, and new interim data should help build its case there.

After 48 weeks on Roche’s Ocrevus, 85% of newly diagnosed primary progressing or relapsing MS patients without a history of disease modifying therapy posted no disease activity, including disease progression or relapse, according to interim data set to be presented this weekend at the virtual American Academy of Neurology meeting.

J&J faces CDC ad­vi­so­ry com­mit­tee again next week to weigh Covid-19 vac­cine risks

The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices punted earlier this week on deciding whether or not to recommend lifting a pause on the administration of J&J’s Covid-19 vaccine, but the committee will meet again in an emergency session next Friday to discuss the safety issues further.

The timing of the meeting likely means that the J&J vaccine will not return to the US market before the end of next week as the FDA looks to work hand-in-hand with the CDC to ensure the benefits of the vaccine still outweigh the risks for all age groups.

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Osman Kibar (Samumed, now Biosplice)

Os­man Kibar lays down his hand at Sa­mumed, step­ping away from CEO role as his once-her­ald­ed an­ti-ag­ing biotech re­brands

Samumed made quite the entrance back in 2016, when it launched with some anti-aging programs and a whopping $12 billion valuation. That level of fanfare was nowhere to be found on Thursday, when the company added another $120 million to its coffers and quietly changed its name to Biosplice Therapeutics.

Why the sudden rebrand?

“We did that for obvious reasons,” CFO and CBO Erich Horsley told Endpoints News. “The name Biosplice echoes our science much more than Samumed does.”

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Ex­clu­sive in­ter­view: Pe­ter Marks on why full Covid-19 vac­cine ap­provals could be just months away

Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, took time out of his busy schedule last Friday to discuss with Endpoints News all things related to his work regulating vaccines and the pandemic.

Marks, who quietly coined the name “Operation Warp Speed” before deciding to stick with his work regulating vaccines at the FDA rather than join the Trump-era program, has been the face of vaccine regulation for the FDA throughout the pandemic, and is usually spotted in Zoom meetings seated in front of his wife’s paintings.

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Near­ly a year af­ter Au­den­tes' gene ther­a­py deaths, the tri­al con­tin­ues. What hap­pened re­mains a mys­tery

Natalie Holles was five months into her tenure as Audentes CEO and working to smooth out a $3 billion merger when the world crashed in.

Holles and her team received word on the morning of May 5 that, hours before, a patient died in a trial for their lead gene therapy. They went into triage mode, alerting the FDA, calling trial investigators to begin to understand what happened, and, the next day, writing a letter to alert the patient community so they would be the first to know. “We wanted to be as forthright and transparent as possible,” Holles told me late last month.

The brief letter noted two other patients also suffered severe reactions after receiving a high dose of the therapy and were undergoing treatment. One died a month and a half later, at which point news of the deaths became public, jolting an emergent gene therapy field and raising questions about the safety of the high doses Audentes and others were now using. The third patient died in August.

“It was deeply saddening,” Holles said. “But I was — we were — resolute and determined to understand what happened and learn from it and get back on track.”

Eleven months have now passed since the first death and the therapy, a potential cure for a rare and fatal muscle-wasting disease called X-linked myotubular myopathy, is back on track, the FDA having cleared the company to resume dosing at a lower level. Audentes itself is no more; last month, Japanese pharma giant Astellas announced it had completed working out the kinks of the $3 billion merger and had restructured and rebranded the subsidiary as Astellas Gene Therapies. Holles, having successfully steered both efforts, departed.

Still, questions about precisely what led to the deaths of the 3 boys still linger. Trial investigators released key details about the case last August and December, pointing to a biological landmine that Audentes could not have seen coming — a moment of profound medical misfortune. In an emerging field that’s promised cures for devastating diseases but also seen its share of safety setbacks, the cases provided a cautionary tale.

Audentes “contributed in a positive way by giving a painful but important example for others to look at and learn from,” Terry Flotte, dean of the UMass School of Medicine and editor of the journal Human Gene Therapy, told me. “I can’t see anything they did wrong.”

Yet some researchers say they’re still waiting on Astellas to release more data. The company has yet to publish a full paper detailing what happened, nor have they indicated that they will. In the meantime, it remains unclear what triggered the events and how to prevent them in the future.

“Since Audentes was the first one and we don’t have additional information, we’re kind of in a holding pattern, flying around, waiting to figure out how to land our vehicles,” said Jude Samulski, professor of pharmacology at UNC’s Gene Therapy Center and CSO of the gene therapy biotech AskBio, now a subsidiary of Bayer.

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Pascal Soriot (AstraZeneca via YouTube)

Af­ter be­ing goad­ed to sell the com­pa­ny, Alex­ion's CEO set some am­bi­tious new goals for in­vestors. Then Pas­cal So­ri­ot came call­ing

Back in the spring of 2020, Alexion $ALXN CEO Ludwig Hantson was under considerable pressure to perform and had been for months. Elliott Advisers had been applying some high public heat on the biotech’s numbers. And in reaching out to some major stockholders, one thread of advice came through loud and clear: Sell the company or do something dramatic to change the narrative.

In the words of the rather dry SEC filing that offers a detailed backgrounder on the buyout deal, Alexion stated: ‘During the summer and fall of 2020, Alexion also continued to engage with its stockholders, and in these interactions, several stockholders encouraged the company to explore strategic alternatives.’

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