Edmonton

Edmonton biotech firm eyes clinical trials for cancer treatment after cash infusion

An Edmonton biotechnology company will start clinical trials on a new cancer therapy next year after receiving a $109-million cash infusion from an American pharmaceutical company.

Trials will test genetic medicine technology that delivers drugs directly to tumours

John Lewis, a cancer researcher at the U of A, is the CEO of Entos Pharmaceuticals, an Edmonton health-care biotech company that will be be doing clinical trials in 2020. (Alexandra Zabjek/CBC)

An Edmonton biotechnology company will start clinical trials on a new cancer therapy next year after receiving a $109-million cash infusion from an American pharmaceutical company.

The move into clinical trials is a significant step for Entos Pharmaceuticals, the two-year-old company headed by University of Alberta oncology researcher John Lewis.

"We're developing a gene therapy for prostate and lung cancers and we expect to start our first Phase 1 human clinical trial in 2020," Lewis said on Thursday.

The technology involves using gene therapy in drugs that are well-tolerated by patients, Lewis said. Researchers have figured out how to deliver genetic material directly into "the site of action" — in the case of cancer, the tumour.

While the technology could be used for any new genetic medicine, Lewis' lab is focused on cancer treatments.

"My lab has focused on asking the question, 'Which specific genes are responsible for the spread of cancer?'" Lewis said. "We've identified 11 specific genes where, if you block them, you block the spread or metastasis of cancer.

"So there's a really compelling case to develop a genetic medicine to block any one of those targets."

The $109 million comes from a publicly traded American pharmaceutical company, which is not being named for competitive reasons, Lewis said.

The U.S. company is "co-developing" the drug based on the Entos drug-delivery technology, he said.

Entos currently has 12 employees but will likely double its staff to get the drug into clinical trials for next year, Lewis said.

"Alberta has a growing — but small — biotech health-care industry," he said.

"Obviously if we can create an environment where these kinds of companies can thrive and compete on an international stage, I think that will be really important."

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