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Probing cancer cells’ ‘ecosystem’
CAMBRIDGE, Mass.—Counting on changing the future of cancer therapy, Pervasis Therapeutics Inc. has entered into an exclusive patent license agreement with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) aimed at developing a breakthrough cell therapy targeted toward delivering a safer, more effective cancer treatment.
The key to Pervasis' interest lay in MIT's discovery that endothelial cells may have a cancer-fighting role. If so, this could lead to the discovery of a new drug to stop the advance of cancerous tumors—and even prevent the cancer from returning, according to the two parties.
"The exclusive patent license agreement with MIT gives the company the rights to all discovery and development activities associated with cellular implants for cancer diagnosis, prognosis and treatment," says Lynn Blenkhorn of Feinstein Kean Healthcare and spokesperson for Pervasis.
Dr. Elazer Edelman, professor of health sciences and technology at MIT, and MIT graduate student Joseph Franses, co-invented a patent portfolio directed to the use of cellular implants for cancer diagnosis, prognosis and treatment. Edelman is one of the original founders of Pervasis and a current member of the company's board of directors.
Edelman and Franses "demonstrated that endothelial cells are a critical component of the tumor cell stroma and serve a similar role in cancer biology as they do in vascular biology, regulating cancer cell behavior and suppressing proliferation, invasiveness and inflammation," Blenkhorn says. "Their research, which was published in the Jan. 19 issue of Science Translational Medicine, suggests that in the tumor setting, quiescent endothelial cells are tumor-suppressive and slow the proliferation and invasiveness of cancer cells, while disruption of the endothelial cells eliminates their ability to inhibit these actions that cause metastasis."
Introducing exogenous functional, healthy endothelial cells to the stromal area can restore homeostasis, the researchers found. Further, multiple preclinical studies demonstrate the powerful anti-angiogenic, anti-proliferative and anti-inflammatory properties of this endothelial cell-based approach in the presence of various solid tumor cancers, such as brain, lung, breast and prostate.
"This research demonstrates that targeting and regulating cell stroma (the tumor environment or 'ecoystem' that is comprised of various cell types distinct from cancer cells) with a novel cell-based approach may prevent key processes that play a role in advancing solid tumor growth and survival," Blenkhorn says.
Simply put, MIT scientists have discovered that endothelial cells secrete molecules that suppress tumor growth and keep cancer cells from invading other tissues, a finding that could lead to a new ways to treat cancer, she says.
As scientific background, endothelial cells (thin layer of cells that line the blood vessels) are critical to tissue repair and health, and have a well-understood role in regulating many of the body's healing processes, including those associated with vascular repair.
"Further, endothelial cells work as the body's 'police force'—helping maintain homeostasis and control cells under a range of pathologic stresses," Blenkhorn says.
Pervasis is using this license as a cornerstone of its newly announced oncology program, through which the company is further developing its proprietary polymer matrix-embedded endothelial cell-based therapy (PVS-30200) to target and regulate cell stroma.
"Pervasis' ultimate goal is to develop a novel cell-based therapy that could lead to a safer, more effective treatment for solid tumors, preventing cancer recurrence and metastasis and improving outcomes for cancer patients," Blenkhorn says.
Frederic Chereau, president and CEO of Pervasis, says he is excited to expand the company's focus "into the critical area of oncology."
"We already have amassed a significant amount of data demonstrating the safety and efficacy of utilizing our novel cell-based approach to improve outcomes associated with the treatment of other serious conditions," Chereau says.
"We are highly encouraged by our initial findings, as we believe they significantly advance our understanding of the critical role endothelial cells play in inhibiting many of the aggressive aspects of cancer," Edelman adds. "We believe this research will open the door to vast horizons for future research and the development of novel therapies, and we look forward to the work Pervasis is undertaking to advance these concepts to the clinical stage."
PVS-30200 has a number of advantages over current cancer therapies, according to Pervasis. PVS-30200 utilizes Pervasis' proprietary implantable material comprised of healthy allogeneic endothelial cells embedded in a polymer matrix that is delivered locally at the time of tumor excision to prevent cell proliferation, inflammation and angiogenesis, key processes that lead to tumor growth and survival.
The well-studied patented technology on which PVS-30200 is founded has a proven safety profile, as demonstrated by data from six clinical studies, and can be administered and targeted locally at the site of the tumor, Chereau says.
"Many current approaches to treating cancer are plagued by significant limitations such as high toxicity and serious side effects and are systemic in nature, unable to locally target tumors," Chereau states. "In addition, despite addressing the primary tumor, metastasis remains one of the most challenging aspects of treating cancer, and is a process that is often unpreventable and uncontrollable.
"We plan to present our preclinical findings as well as the PVS-30200 technology to the oncology community as soon as possible," he adds. "We believe this therapy has the potential to dramatically advance the promise of cell therapy as an innovative and viable treatment paradigm for cancer."
Building on its deep understanding of the specialized role that the endothelium plays in regulating natural healing and repair processes associated with disease, privately held Pervasis is advancing groundbreaking new therapies to dramatically improve the outcomes of common vascular interventions, such as arteriovenous access, angioplasties, stents and peripheral and coronary bypass grafts—the failure of which result in serious complications and a significant increase in medical costs.
Pervasis is also applying its platform technology to develop products in other key therapeutic areas, including inflammatory disease and orthopedic injury.