As the leading cause of death globally, it is a challenge to find someone who has not been personally affected by cancer. According to the World Health Organization, this deadly disease claimed 8.2 million lives in 2012, and new cases are expected to rise by 70% over the next twenty years. Although 40% of cancers are curable with early detection and treatment, and surgery is often safe and effective, current medicines and treatments have demonstrated devastating limitations in preventing cancers from recurring and spreading in late stage patients. Simply put: standard therapies for late stage cancer patients urgently need improvement.
Currently, drug treatments available on the market may add extra months of life or provide tumor stabilization. However, tumor cells can become resistant to drugs and furthermore, some experts believe the drugs that kill most tumor cells do not affect or eliminate cancer stem cells, which can regenerate the tumor. Propanc Health Group (PPCH), an emerging biotech company, aims to approach cancer treatment differently in order to remove these limitations, particularly in the treatment of aggressive forms of cancer.
A New Approach
Formed in Melbourne, Propanc is exploring new therapeutic approaches to the treatment and prevention of metastatic cancer. Aiming to provide oncologists and their patients with more effective therapies for metastatic cancer that have a substantially better side effect profile, the company is building an IP portfolio around the scientific understanding of the effects of proenzymes in cancer, identifying new formulations, new routes of administration and potential new therapeutic targets.
“The whole way we view oncology is now shifting from focusing on the primary tumor to looking at metastatic cancer, the spread of cancer, controlling it and maintaining it, rather than trying to find a miracle cure that targets the primary tumor,” said James Nathanielsz, CEO of Propanc. “In essence, the Propanc product differentiates from others because it targets those dangerous cells that actually are the ones that form new metastases, which are called cancer stem cells.”
Cancer stem cells, which are found in many solid tumors, are immortal, tumor-initiating cells that have the capacity to self-renew and differentiate into other cell types. They are common cancer types classified as solid tumors, including lung, colorectal, ovarian cancer, pancreatic cancer and liver cancers. “These cancer stem cells are doubly dangerous because we know that current standard treatments are ineffective against them,” said Nathanielsz. “What we do is, rather than trying to obliterate the tumors themselves, we induce cell differentiation in the cancer stem cells.”
Differentiation therapy presents a number of advantages over current conventional therapies, including:
- Not targeting cell death, ensuring healthy cells are not compromised within the patient.
- Turning cancer stem cells towards differentiated cells.
Propanc’s products involve or employ PRP, a first in class pro-enzyme treatment that targets spreading cancer cells. With fifteen years of scientific research and clinical experience from treating patients in the UK and Australia, there is evidence that PRP may be effective in the following ways:
- Reducing cancer cell growth via promotion of cell differentiation.
- Enhancing cell adhesion and may suppress metastasis progression.
- Improving patient survival free from serious side effects associated with standard treatments.
Furthermore, Propanc’s research demonstrates that their approach targets not one, not two, but several cancer types. “We have scientific evidence which now shows that we target at least around ten, if not fifteen, if not close to twenty of these cancer types that we tested in the laboratory,” said Nathanielsz. “Our long-term goal is to target as many of these solid tumors as possible. This could be really groundbreaking, not only in terms of the target patient population but also the pathways that are relevant to solid tumors. It could become a standard treatment approach across a range of cancers.”
A Mission Of Hope
Colorectal and pancreatic cancer results in 650,000 deaths globally, and an estimated $2.6 billion spent on pancreatic cancer care alone. With a staggering $10 billion to be spent on colorectal and pancreatic
treatments, there is significant market opportunity regarding the limitations of current therapies. “Pancreatic cancer and ovarian cancer are extremely aggressive,” said Nathanielsz. “They’re an underserved patient treatment population. We are targeting initially late-stage patients diagnosed with pancreatic and colorectal cancers in our clinical development and have some strong scientific evidence regarding ovarian cancer in preclinical animal models.”
In recent months, the company has achieved significant growth and has announced a number of key operational milestones, including:
- Earlier this month, filing a third patent regarding the use of its lead product, PRP, as a method to treat cancer by targeting cancer stem cell eradication, whilst sparing normal stem cells.
- Receiving a further $525,000 tranche from an institutional investor in order to progress their lead product, PRP, towards human trials.
- Achieving significant tumor growth inhibition in pancreatic and ovarian cancers for PRP in preclinical animal efficacy studies.
- Securing $4 million from an institutional investor in order to progress their lead product, PRP, towards human trials.
“We’re now executing on our strategy to proceed with regulatory agency meetings and start the preparation for clinical trials,” said Nathanielsz. “The company is also aspiring towards an uplisting at some stage if it makes sense from a shareholder perspective. Raising enough capital where we can increase our overheads could make sense at that stage. But right now, we’re happy to continue with this existing arrangement until such time that we achieve that value inflection point. We’re doing very diligent work and we’re excited about unlocking what we think could be tremendous value for the company in the next twelve months.”
With the goal to catch and treat cancer before becoming terminal, the company is moving towards addressing earlier stages of the disease process. “What we’re doing is really understanding our drug,” said Nathanielsz. “We’ve done a tremendous amount of work elucidating the technology, understanding how it works, and maximizing the dose. As a result, we’ve been able to file several patents. We’ve filed two in the last two months. And as a result, we’re now moving into the formal toxicology program which will create a milestone and will lead us hopefully, into the next stage, which is human trials.”
A Solution is Right Around the Corner
In the fight against cancer, Propanc’s research efforts and developments are industry breakthroughs. Furthering their mission to provide a competitive advantage over other treatments available, the company's lead PRP candidate is now in preclinical development and moving into the safety toxicology studies needed before initiating Phase I, patient trials.
“As a result of this, we have booked in, now confirmed at the end of April, a regulatory agency meeting in the UK with the MHRA to discuss the clinical trials process, given we plan to undertake our human studies in Europe, ” said Nathanielsz. “So what I can say is that in the U.S., if we were having what they called a pre-IND meeting, if we were seeking Orphan Drug Designation at this particular stage which we plan to do, which we all of these things mean something to investors. And what I can assure you is that this is right around the corner.”
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