Noxopharm Limited (ASX:NOX) Managing Director and CEO, Dr Graham Kelly, talks about pre-clinical results that show potentially improved response rates to chemotherapy and radiotherapy in the most common form of brain cancer, glioblastoma multiforme (GBM).
Jessica Amir: Hello. I’m Jessica Amir for the Finance News Network. Joining me from cancer therapy development company Noxopharm Limited (ASX:NOX) is CEO and Executive Director Dr Graham Kelly. Graham, welcome back.
Dr Graham Kelly: Thanks, Jessica.
Jessica Amir: So, to start off with, you’ve just announced how your drug NOX66 importantly helps treat brain cancer. Can you elaborate on the announcement?
Dr Graham Kelly: The company has come up with a way of getting drugs across the blood brain barrier into the brain. Not all drugs, but a certain type of drug. And that’s a pretty significant breakthrough, because up till now only about 2% of all drugs that humans take can actually get into the brain.
And that’s been the major hurdle in being able to successfully do anything about, not just cancer, but any of the neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s. So that’s been the problem up till now.
So, about nine months ago, we announced that, in animals anyway, we’ve been able to get Idronoxil into the brain. Yes, it’s only in animals, but the important thing is that all mammals have the same sort of blood brain barrier. So if it works in rats, we’re pretty confident that it’ll work in humans.
So, what we announced this week was the important questions that you have to ask yourself. "OK, we can get a drug into the brain, but is it going to do anything once it’s there?" And the announcement this week was essentially - yes, we believe we can get it to work in brain cancer.
Jessica Amir: What are the boxes that you say that you’ve ticked?
Dr Graham Kelly: There’s a couple of key ones that you have to ask yourself. The first is - is it going to kill brain cancer cells? And in this case, we used a cancer called GBM, which is short for Glioblastoma, and it’s the major aggressive brain cancer that occurs in adults. And it’s a tough little cancer to do anything with. And it’s poorly responsive to radiotherapy, it’s poorly responsive to any sort of drugs.
So, the first box we had to tick was - will our drug kill those cells? And the answer is yes, it is killing GBM cancer cells where no other drug was able to do anything. That was the first box. The second box was - can we make the only drug that currently is approved to treat brain cancer work any better, because unfortunately it’s not a very active drug? And the answer to that is - yes, we’re about to make a drug called Temozolomide work much better.
Jessica Amir: And, Graham, when used with TMZ, the most common form of chemotherapy, what effect does that have?
Dr Graham Kelly: Temozolomide or TMZ is, as you say, it's the only drug that's approved to be used for the treatment of brain cancer. Now what we're able to show is that our drug, Idronoxil, actually makes Temozolomide far more effective in brain cancer cells pre-clinically. But not just in those cells that are currently responding to TMZ, but even those three out of five cell lines that don't respond at the moment. So, that was an important finding.
Jessica Amir: Thanks, Graham. So, it appears NOX66 has the power to act on most forms of brain cancer when used in conjunction with radiotherapy and chemotherapy. Can you elaborate on that?
Dr Graham Kelly: What we had previously found was that NOX66 was very effective at working on those forms of cancer that start somewhere else in the body but then go to the brain. So, cancers like breast cancer or cancer of the lung, prostate, stomach, bowel, melanoma.
About one in five of those cancers will end up metastasizing to the brain. And there’s probably somewhere up to about 10 times more cases of brain cancer where the cancer starts outside the brain than there are of cancers that start inside the brain.
So we believe that now we can get Idronoxil via NOX66 into the brain that we can do something for all forms of cancer - not just those that start inside the brain, but also those that start outside the brain.
So, that’s where we believe that we’re probably unique, or certainly I’m not aware of anybody else that’s making the claim of being able to do that.
Jessica Amir: Thanks, Graham. So, what’s next for the study?
Dr Graham Kelly: What we have to do now is complete a number of preclinical animal studies in order to be allowed to go into humans with brain cancer. So, over the course of the next few months, we’re going to be conducting animal studies. These are studies in animals that have brain cancer. And if we can demonstrate that NOX66 has an advantage, has a benefit in those animals, then we believe we’ll be allowed to go into patients with brain cancer in 2018.
Jessica Amir: You’ve just raised $5 million from new and existing shareholders. How does the business plan to use those funds?
Dr Graham Kelly: Well, most of the money is going to go into clinical trials. We have quite an active clinical program that’s been planned, and we will have, by the end of the year, six different clinical studies up and running. And brain cancer will be the seventh one, that we’ll be looking to start next year. So that’s where that money is going to be dedicated.
Jessica Amir: Thanks, Graham. Last question now. What’s the market size for NOX66 in treating brain cancer?
Dr Graham Kelly: About 130,000 people worldwide die each year from cancer that starts in the brain. And we think there’s probably up to about 10 times more than that that die from cancer in the brain, but starts outside of the brain.
So, it’s a major problem. The stats are really quite poor; the survival outlook is really quite poor. Within about five years after diagnosis, there’s typically only 3% or 4% of people with cancer of the brain that are actually still alive.
If you simply look at the statistics of ho w many people are affected by brain cancer, that’s not just primary but also secondary brain cancer, we’re looking at about a million people a year. So that’s a market that is just sitting there waiting for somebody to come to it with an effective drug.
Jessica Amir: Well, Dr Graham Kelly, thank you so much for the update and good luck with the trials.
Dr Graham Kelly: Thanks very much.