News Column

Oncoceutics Inc. of Hershey to test newest cancer drug

May 14, 2014

By Chris Sholly, Lebanon Daily News, Pa.



May 14--HERSHEY -- A Hershey biotech company is expected to start clinical trials for an experimental cancer drug next month.

Oncoceutics, a spin-off company of the Penn State Hershey Cancer Institute, believes its drug compound -- designated ONC201 -- could suppress tumors and help healthy cells fight extant tumors.

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During an Innovation CafÉ meeting at the Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center on Wednesday, company CEO Wolfgang Oster said the company received its first use patent from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in March. Innovation CafÉ is a networking forum for entrepreneurs in central Pennsylvania and the event focused on the work of Oncoceutics, located in the Hershey Center for Applied Research.

Oster gave an overview of the company, the drug and the company's investors. Phase I of the clinical trials will start in June.

"We want to show first and foremost that the drug is safe and can be given in a dose range that we desire, where we have seen pre-clinical tumor activity," Oster said, noting that Phase II would be to use the drug for specific cancerous tumors.

Oster said the cancer patients who are eligible for the clinical trials are patients who have no other alternative option for treatment. These patients would be referred by physicians.

The drug has been tested in more than 80 tumor models, he said. It has shown to be efficacious in brain cancers, particularly glioblastoma multiforme, an aggressive malignant brain tumor, as well as leukemia and lung, breast and colorectal cancers.

The American Cancer Society, Penn State Hershey Cancer Institute and the National Institutes of Health funded the study of the drug.

Oster said it is difficult to predict how long it could take to bring the drug to market.

"We have to make the decision which tumor type we take into the pivotal phase to be studied for the first market introduction," he said. "If it is a medical need indication, like glioblastoma multiforme, where there is basically no therapy available, it could be a relatively short course. It could as short as three to four years or as long as five to seven years."

The drug can be given intravenously or orally as a pill. Oster said the company is moving forward with the pill compound because it is safer and more convenient for the patient.

The drug is the first from the Penn State Hershey Cancer Institute that has gone to the clinical stage of the process.

Keith S. Marmer, associate dean for research innovation and director of the Office of Technology Development at Penn State Hershey, said it is an important step for the team of researchers.

"It's important for the patients that we serve," he said. "It means that Penn State Hershey is now able to bring that research to patients in need, and that's the most gratifying."

Dr. Wafik El-Deiry, professor of medicine and chief of hematology/oncology at the Penn State Hershey Cancer Institute, has been doing laboratory research into the cancer treatment for many years. The compound imitates the production of a tumor-fighting protein in the body and helps healthy cells fight cancerous cells.

Marmer said his department has helped the company with the technical aspects of its intellectual property. In 2012, the company received a $1.3 million state health grant to help the company launch.

"They have gone farther than 95 percent of most research platforms that exist in the world, just to get to this stage, to get to the clinical trials," Marmer said. "We're very proud of the work that Dr. El-Deiry has done. It's a phenomenal accomplishment just to be where they are."

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(c)2014 the Lebanon Daily News (Lebanon, Pa.)

Visit the Lebanon Daily News (Lebanon, Pa.) at www.ldnews.com

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Source: Lebanon Daily News (PA)


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