The Startup World Is Working to Eradicate Cancer for Good

By Elijah Labby Thursday, December 24, 2020

The treatment of cancer has long been one of medicine’s most puzzling challenges. With the wide variety of types of malignancies, it is clear that there is, as of now, no singular way to treat the disease. However, with each passing day, authorities in the field are figuring out ways of treating or curing different types of cancer and helping to bring the day when no one has to worry about receiving a cancer diagnosis as a difficult one.

One of these authorities is enGene, a biotechnology company whose proprietary technology, dubbed EG-70, aims at a specific type of non-muscle invasive bladder cancer by insertion in certain mucosal glands. In early December, enGene received a critical go-ahead from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for a fast-tracked rollout of EG-70.

This designation means that enGene now has increased communication with the FDA and can apply for Priority Review and Accelerated Approval, which will help their treatment become more accessible more quickly. Now that the agency has fast-tracked its technology, enGene will benefit from hastened development and quicker review.

“We are pleased with the FDA's recognition of our EG-70 program with this designation and we look forward to working closely with the FDA throughout the clinical development process to bring this innovative treatment to patients as quickly as possible," said Jason Hanson, Chief Executive Officer at enGene.

Jose Lora, Chief Scientific Officer at enGene, believes this technology will meet a largely unmet sector of cancer care and enable doctors to assess multiple different types of tumors.

Cancer Startups Across the Country

Lora isn’t the only one who recognizes the power of companies aimed at eradicating specific types of cancer. Catamaran Bio, which was formed in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in November, hopes to use so-called “natural killer” cells to fight solid tumors.

Whereas other treatments for solid tumors use T-cells from the cancer patients themselves, Catamaran Bio wants to obtain these “NK” cells from healthy people for use in others.

The group has garnered quite a bit of fame in the mere weeks it has been in existence, even raising $42 million from venture capital investors. Catamaran’s leadership has made this possible by lending a great deal of credibility to its mission; one of its founders, Branden Moriarity, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Pediatrics, Division of Hematology/Oncology at the University of Minnesota. Another, Catherine Bollard, MD, is Professor of Pediatrics and Microbiology, Immunology and Tropical Medicine at The George Washington University and Director of the Center for Cancer and Immunology Research at the Children’s Research Institute.

“This was a group of people who had wanted to do something together for a long time,” said Houman Ashrafian, managing partner of SV Health Investors, in an interview with the Boston Globe. He said that the potential of NK cells “was the lightning rod that drew us together.”

They hope that their efforts will translate into an over-the-counter cancer drug in the future, which would be a revolution in cancer treatment.

The Future of Cancer Treatment

While Catamaran’s hopes may seem lofty, there is evidence of patients with remarkable responses to treatment. Some of these patients, reports Science, have seen their “multiple tumors melt away,” after taking cancer drugs.

For a long time, says the article, these patients were written off as outliers who did not represent the entirety of patients. But upon further investigation, scientists are finding that these outliers may give them a clue about how best to treat other patients.

One of these remarkable cases is that of a patient with brain cancer who had survived for more than ten years after his initial diagnosis. Another story is of a colon cancer patient who was in remission more than four years after treatment. The common denominator, the scientists believe, is the use of multiple treatments, each of which knocked out certain strands of DNA that would have worked to repair the illness’s strength.

While the National Cancer Institute’s Louis Staudt says these findings are not conclusive, he says he does “think they teach us something.”

About the Author


Headshot for author Elijah Labby

Elijah Labby is a graduate of the National Journalism Center. He has previously written for Broadband Breakfast, a technology and internet policy website.

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