By Kathleen Berger, Executive Producer for Science and Technology
Arch Oncology in St. Louis is engaged in a cellular battle with a unique approach for killing cancer. The immunotherapy developed and studied in Arch Oncology’s lab is based on what’s called a “don’t eat me signal”, which is key to a cell’s survival.
“We work in the field of immune-oncology, which is basically the ability to turn your own body’s immune system back on to recognize cancer,” said Arun Kashyap, PhD, Arch Oncology’s vice president of research. “We have good cells and we have cells that kind of patrol our body to get rid of bad cells or viruses or bacteria, things that shouldn’t be there. And so those cells are told not to eat the good cells by this ‘don’t eat me’ signal.
The problem is cancer cells also have that “don’t eat me” signal.
“Cancer cells have hijacked that system and they make a lot of that. And so, they don’t get recognized by these immune cells to be targeted and basically destroyed,” said Kashyap.
Arch Oncology developed a therapeutic to disrupt the signal and disarm the defense shield, leaving the cancer cells defenseless.
“If we can interrupt that signal, our immune system can then act on those cells,” said Kashyap.
Arch Oncology plans to accomplish cancer cell destruction through is lead therapy AO-176, an anti-CD47 antibody which is optimized for anti-cancer activity.
“We have an antibody called AO-176 that we’re developing for multiple cancers that blocks this ‘don’t eat me’ signal.”
Arch Oncology developed the therapeutic to disrupt the signal and disarm the defense shield, leaving the cancer cells defenseless. The antibody targets CD47, which is a protein that appears on normal cells as well as cancer cells.
“If we bind the antibody to CD47, then it prevents it from binding to the other protein on the immune cell to be able to transmit that ‘don’t eat me’ signal.”
Without signal transmission, the immune system can do its job. The company has advanced the therapy with the support of BioGenerator, the investment arm of BioSTL. Arch Oncology continues to be part of BioGenerator Labs in the BiOSTL building in St. Louis.
“Within the facility that we have here, we’re looking at the ways that this antibody works, not only to disrupt the ‘don’t eat me’ signal, but how that really take place in very controlled situations here in the lab,” said Kashyap.
As a clinical stage immune-oncology company, Arch Oncology is advancing its anti-CD47 antibody therapies in clinical trials.
“We have multiple sites across the country where we’re testing,” Kashyap said. “We have multiple studies ongoing. One of them in solid tumors: endometrial, gastric and ovarian cancers. And the other one in multiple myeloma.”
By using AO-176 to target CD47 differently, the hope is to block cancer more efficiently and that may also be in combination with existing drug therapies.
“There’s no one agent that is a cure for cancer,” he said. “The more drugs that we can use in combination with AO-176, the more cancers we can help treat. We know that this drug has an effect on its own. But also, we see in the lab that it works in combination with many other kinds of drugs too. So, we’re hoping to apply that to the clinic.”