Biosceptre: Developing a new cancer treatment

We conducted an interview with the Director of Business Development at Biosceptre, Daniel Barton.

Company Profile

Biosceptre is a UK-based company developing a number of new cancer treatments targeting 18 of the top 20 most prevalent cancers including breast, colon, rectal and prostate cancers. These treatments are originally based on the research conducted by Dr. Julian Barden at the University of Sydney.

How does the treatment work?

P2X7 is a protein present on the surface of normal cells that allows ions into the cell (called an “ion channel”). It plays an important role in many processes, including cell death. Dr. Julian Barden and his team has shown that the structure of P2X7 is modified by cancer cells to help them survive.

This modified protein, called non-functional P2X7 (nfP2X7), is highly expressed in cancer cells, and has been identified in >20 cancer types. Moreover, nfP2X7 is not present in healthy cells. This means that a drug targeting nfP2X7 has the potential to effectively treat cancer with minimal side effects for healthy organs.

Biosceptre has developed antibodies that specifically bind to nfP2X7. Once attached to the cancer cell, they recruit the immune system to destroy the cancer cell.

Treatments that Biosceptre is developing

Biosceptre has three treatments in development:

  1. A topical treatment for Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC), a type of skin cancer, that has passed phase I clinical trials.
  2. A systemic antibody for various cancers that is about to enter phase I clinical trials. Preclinical studies using animal models have demonstrated the safety and efficacy of this treatment
  3. An anti-cancer vaccine which is in preclinical development at the moment.

Next steps in the development of the treatment:

Biosceptre is currently raising funding to conduct an FDA approved phase II clinical trial in the USA for its topical product, as well as 2 Phase I trials for its vaccine and antibody in Australia. They plan to have their IPO on the NYSE in 2018 once the results from this trial are in.

More Details on the Science of how P2X7 is modified

A number processes contribute to the formation of the nfP2X7 protein present in cancer cells. These include “alternative splicing” – where the nfP2X7 mRNA has different “exons” (the coding regions of the gene) from the healthy P2X7 mRNA, as well as post-translational modifications to the protein- changes to the protein, such as its conformation and how it’s assembled on the cell membrane.

Whatever the precise mechanism, the nfP2X7 protein helps cancer cells to avoid cell death and proliferate (multiply rapidly). However, this nfP2X7 protein has a surface epitope (this is the part of the protein that could be detected by antibodies), which is not accessible in the healthy P2X7. Thus, nfP2X7 presents as a unique druggable target.

About Rina Soetanto

Rina Soetanto is currently doing her PhD in molecular biology. She also has an extensive background in pharmacology and pre-clinical cancer research, as well as an undergraduate science degree from the Australian National University with a double major in neuroscience and immunology.

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