The first patients in the United States involved in clinical trials received a possible cure for cancer, which was developed by scientists from the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry in Prague.
In the body, the drug replaces glutamine, disrupts the metabolism of cancer cells, and thus kills them. The Institute of Organic Chemistry and Johns Hopkins University in the US founded the Dracen Pharmaceuticals spin-off two years ago for further drug development, but in the future, it hopes to be bought by a large pharmaceutical company.
The clinical study in the United States officially began on August 31 and will involve a total of 160 patients with lung or laryngeal tumors, said Pavel Majer of the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry at the Czech Academy of Sciences. Majer worked with his team on the new drug. “They receive a tiny dose, which is gradually increased, and the patient is, of course, monitored in many ways, especially to monitor if there are any side effects.”
The aim of the study will be to determine the so-called maximum tolerable dose. “On the one hand, we want the maximum dose to suppress the tumor; on the other hand, of course, sooner or later we will encounter a side effect, so the patient’s interest must be balanced,” explained Majer. “There must be an opportunity for it to benefit the patient.”
The preclinical testing phase on animal cells confirmed that the drug from the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Johns Hopkins University works very well in combination with immunotherapy. “By transforming the metabolism of cancer cells, our substances make the tumor sensitive to immunotherapy,“ Majer continued.
Investing in medicine
According to the original plan from 2018, when the Institute of Organic Chemistry and the American University established the spin-off Dracen Pharmaceuticals, the drug was to be on the market by approximately 2024.
Meanwhile, the project experienced only a slight delay, since clinical trials did not start due to the coronavirus until nearly five months after their approval. “This test is planned to last three years. This does not mean that the substance would go straight to the clinic after those three years; we expect that a large player will have to come on board,“ Majer explained.
The Institute of Organic Chemistry and Johns Hopkins University have been hoping from the very beginning that the Dracen spin-off would take the drug’s development to the clinical stage and then be bought by a large pharmaceutical company. In total, the development will cost up to a billion dollars, estimated Pavel Majer.
At the same time, the Deerfield investment fund gave “only“ $40 million (800 million korunas) for its launch. However, this is not such a dizzying investment in America, Professor Barbara Slusher from Johns Hopkins University told Czech Radio two years ago.
“This is mostly because investment funds want to give a significant amount to a company that they think has potential and help it succeed. They don’t want to invest in a lot of small businesses; they prefer to choose one project that they think will work.”
The purchase of a license for DRP-104 by a large pharmaceutical company could speed up the development of the drug if some company would be willing to invest in expanding the existing clinical trial.