26 Feb '13
Oleg Kouzbit, Online News Managing Editor
We’ll take a closer look today at Andrus Reo, a Moscow-based biomed and pharmaceutical start-up. In a still relatively rare example of international cutting-edge technology transfer, Andrus Reo undertakes to bring to the Russian cancer medication market what is perceived to be a revolutionary drug to fight malignant tumors in the head, neck, and pancreas. Invested just last week by the government-owned RVC BioFund, the one-year-old company is teaming up in this effort with Canada’s Oncolytics Biotech, the owner of the new technology, and has plans to arrange for an advanced stage of clinical trials of the new drug candidate in Russia. With the number of new cancer cases standing at approximately 12 million a year, and about eight million cancer patients dying each year, including 100,000 children, the Russo-Canadian effort to curb the killer—one in a series of biotech advancements across Russia—is a project to watch.
Aided by its new major investor, the RVC BioFund, Andrus Reo has agreed with Oncolytics Biotech, a Canadian company developing oncolytic viruses for conservative cancer therapy, on the joint development and commercialization into the Russian market of a new reovirus-based drug.
Under the terms of the agreement, the Russian start-up is taking Reolysin, Oncolytics’ flagship drug candidate still requiring further improvement and testing, into its comprehensive phase III clinical trials program.
According to Egor Beketov, the CEO of the RVC BioFund, the tripartite project initiated by Andrus Reo is “unique” as it is based on a “solid body of experimental evidence and a mature stage of clinical testing.” Commenting on the collaboration with Canada’s Oncolytics Biotech, Mr. Beketov admitted that “transfer of innovation technologies developed to such a high level is a rare occurrence in the Russian pharma sector.”
According to estimates provided by the UN and the World Cancer Research Fund, the number of new cancer cases may now stand at 12 million a year, and each year about eight million cancer patients die, including 100,000 children. By 2030, the death rate is expected to increase to 11.5 million a year.
In Russia, there’s an estimated 2.5 million cancer patients, with about 500,000 new cases added on an annual basis.
Targeting a broad range of tumors, especially in the pancreas
The new drug is expected to effectively fight a “very broad range of malignant neoplasms,” believes Konstantin Chernov, the CEO of Andrus Reo. He underscored that the candidate has no side effects typically associated with conventional chemotherapy while acting in a patient “in an original way” —a combination that he said will enable physicians to administer the future drug alongside other medication, and enhance overall treatment prospects as a result. Mr. Chernov also emphasized the substance’s “outstanding tolerability profile” as revealed at the prior clinical trial stages.
Pancreatic cancer is seen as the new drug’s immediate target in Russia. According to the Russian Ministry of Healthcare, the incidence of the disease has been steadily on the rise over the past 20 years, inching from an incidence proportion of 9.05 per 100,000 Russian persons in 2000 to a forecasted 11 per 100,000 two years from now. Pancreatic cancer patients’ survival rate still remains one of the lowest in Russian oncology as there are still no successful therapies.
How it works
The Reolysin drug candidate is a reovirus capable of selectively multiplying in the malignant cells that contain a permanently activated Ras oncogene, and killing those in the process while keeping surrounding healthy tissue intact.
Mutations that permanently activate the so-called Ras family of genes are believed to be found in up to 90% of certain types of cancer, including pancreatic cancer. The activation brings about excessive signaling inside the damaged cells, thus spurring disproportionate cell growth and at times resulting in cancers.
Scientists have learned that the growth of more than 30% of tumors is directly caused by Ras gene activation.
Joining the ranks
With its Russo-Canadian alliance Andrus Reo is one of many Russian biomed companies that tackle cancer head-on and have recently stepped up across-the-board efforts to check the killer. With new cancer cases mushrooming a reported 20% in less than a decade others, too, have offered their own approaches.
In Moscow, NewVac, for one, has developed its cutting-edge cancer immunotherapy technology. OncoMax has been working on its advanced humanized monoclonal antibody drug. Privately-owned Human Stem Cell Institute has engineered the SynBio project focused on the development of histone H1-based oncology medicines.
Away east in Siberia, Tomsk’s Siberian State Medical University has been harnessing polyvalent iodine based radio (y-emitting) tracers to make sure modern positron emission tomography (PET) cancer diagnostics has an “unparalleled level of accuracy.” Novosibirsk’s Budker Nuclear Physics Institute has applied boron-neutron capture to its new elementary particle accelerator technology that is said to kill cancer.
Other researchers, such as the Medical Radiology Research Center in Obninsk, in Central Russia, with its Russia’s first compact neutron generator to treat malignant tumors, have also made considerable headway.