Biotech Unveils Drug for Viral Infections Tied to Cervical Cancer

8/22/14Follow @bvbigelow

A small San Diego biotech has identified a drug that appears to prevent several subtypes of the human papillomavirus (HPV) from replicating—including the two HPV subtypes that cause 70 percent of all cases of cervical cancer.

“It’s early, so we shouldn’t hype it too much. But the antiviral studies look pretty good,” said Karl Hostetler, an emeritus professor of medicine at UC San Diego, and the founding CEO of Hera Therapeutics. The two-year-old startup has been incubating in the Janssen Labs life sciences accelerator in San Diego.

Research findings being presented in Seattle this weekend during the 29th Annual International Papillomavirus Conference show that HTI-1968, a small molecule discovered in Hostetler’s lab, blocked the replication of HPV-11, HPV-16, and HPV-18 in cultured human cell models. The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases funded the studies, which were done by Louise Chow and Thomas Broker at the University of Alabama, Birmingham.

If the early results hold up, Hera Therapeutics could potentially become the first biotech to develop a direct-acting antiviral therapy for HPV. (The drug would be applied topically to the skin, Hostetler said.) But that’s a big “if”—and a number of biopharmaceutical rivals are already in clinical trials with immunotherapy products to treat HPV infections or HPV-related cancers, including Pennsylvania’s Inovio Pharmaceuticals (NYSE: INO).

Two HPV vaccines also have been commercially available for years. The FDA approved Merck’s Gardasil in 2006, and authorized additional uses three years later. The agency also approved GlaxoSmithKline’s Cervarix in 2009.

Both HPV vaccines are designed to trigger the production of antibodies that are keyed to neutralize specific types of HPV (more than 40 subtypes can infect the genital area), including HPV 16 and HPV 18, the subtypes responsible for 70 percent of all cervical cancers—and that are also associated with cancers of the vulva, vagina, penis, anus, and throat.

You might think that would end the matter, in much the same way that vaccines halted the spread of polio and eradicated smallpox. But in … Next Page »

Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at bbigelow@xconomy.com or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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