(DGIwire) – There is no greater reward for a new medical treatment than its successful application across a wide variety of conditions. Consider the evolution of RNA interference (RNAi) since its discovery by Craig C. Mello and Andrew Z. Fire, co-recipients of the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine in 2006 for their discovery. An article in MIT Technology Review captured some of the challenges being overcome by a number of companies as they seek to adapt the remarkable potential of RNAi into commercially available treatments.
RNAi is a naturally occurring process by which a particular “messenger RNA” can be destroyed before it is translated into protein. Since the overexpression of certain proteins play a role in many disease conditions, the ability to inhibit gene expression with RNAi provides a potentially powerful tool to treat human disease. The MIT Tech Review article outlines the quest to determine the right delivery mechanisms that could allow RNAi to treat a variety of devastating conditions, including cancer.
In addition to developing novel delivery mechanisms, some researchers are focusing on this very important disease area: potentially using RNAi to treat cancer. As MIT Tech Review reports, conventional chemotherapy affects more than just cancer cells—it also hurts healthy tissue. But RNAi can be very precise, potentially shutting down specific proteins found or overexpressed only in cancer cells. One novel RNAi technology makes it possible to target many different proteins simultaneously, perhaps as many as five to 10, which could make cancer treatments far more effective, the journal says.
“RNAi is by nature a versatile tool and RXi has developed a robust RNAi therapeutic platform that has many advantages over its competitors in the RNAi space,” says Dr. Geert Cauwenbergh, President and CEO of RXi Pharmaceuticals. “In addition to our current programs, we have recently begun research and discovery efforts for cell-based immunotherapies to treat cancer based on our proprietary platform. Along with our peers in this space, we are eager to develop more tolerable treatments that result in a better quality of life and extended survival of family members whom we may otherwise lose prematurely.”
RNAi is the foundation of RXi’s novel therapeutic self-delivering RNAi platform, called sd-rxRNA®. Based on this proprietary technology, the company has active programs in dermatology, ophthalmology and cell-based immuno-oncology.
The company’s immuno-oncology program will focus on cell-based therapies using sd-rxRNA compounds. Cell-based cancer immunotherapy, also known as Autologous Immune Enhancement Therapy (AIET), is a treatment that uses a patient’s own immune cells (e.g., peripheral blood-derived NK cells, cytotoxic T lymphocytes and others). These cells are taken out of the body, cultured, processed to become activated, and in this case treated with RXi’s sd-rxRNA compounds, before they are then reinfused back into the patient to attack cancer cells. Researchers have found that this type of cell therapy primarily targets cancer cells and not healthy cells. This approach differs from chemotherapy and radiotherapy where healthy cells are also destroyed.
To support this new program, the company has appointed Alexey Eliseev, PhD as RXi’s Chief Business Officer to spearhead the business development initiatives for the company’s immunotherapy program. Dr. Eliseev is a highly accomplished leader with more than 20 years of experience in academia, biotechnology industry and venture capital. In addition, the company also has expanded its team of accomplished Scientific Advisors with the addition of two leading oncology experts. The company has appointed Dr. Rolf Kiessling, Professor in Experimental Oncology at Karolinska Institutet and Senior Chief Physician of Radiumhemmet at Karolinska Hospital as well as medical oncology expert Dr. James D. Griffin, Chairman, Department of Medical Oncology, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Dr. Griffin also serves as Professor, Medicine, Harvard Medical School and Director, Medical Oncology, Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
“RXi is at the forefront of using cutting-edge technology that builds upon the knowledge that we have gained from the founder of our company, Dr. Mello, and we believe that RNAi holds great promise for many therapeutic areas,” Cauwenbergh adds.