Arrowsmith Challenges Scientific Establishment With New Approach for Brain Cancer

5/4/09Follow @xconomy

Much has been written about personalizing cancer drugs by giving them to patients with a genetic profile that makes them likely to respond to treatment. But what if doctors could tailor cancer drugs a different way, confining standard chemotherapy to a precise organ or cancerous region, without sending the drugs flowing throughout the rest of the body and causing side effects?

This idea has been around a long time, without a lot of success to show for it. But I heard about a new variation on this theme being developed at a Seattle-based startup called Arrowsmith Technologies. It is the brainchild of Jefferson Foote, a former scientist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, and an expert in making antibody drugs.

Arrowsmith draws its inspiration, and name, from the 1926 Sinclair Lewis novel that tells the story of a scientist who grows disillusioned with the medical establishment. In this case, Foote is striking out on his own for a vision that’s yet to catch on with the crowd. His goal is to make antibody drugs that are injected directly into the brain, where they can latch onto chemotherapy and keep it confined there where it can kill cancer cells. If this works as intended, it means that patients would be exposed to a low dose of chemotherapy in the brain, and they could avoid the peaks and valleys of concentration in the blood that cause many side effects, and the need for frequent repeat doses, Foote says.

“If you have a tumor in your belly, why should your hair fall out?” Foote says. “If you can direct your drug to the tumor, you can avoid that.”

This is all at the very early stages of development—Foote is still toiling in the lab for the right antibody to take into animal tests—but he has high hopes that this could offer a new paradigm for treatment of brain cancer. About 22,000 people in the U.S. were diagnosed with brain tumors a year ago, and about 13,000 died from the disease, according to the American Cancer Society.

Foote has been working on various ways to get commercial support for his work since he left the “Hutch” in 2004. Foote has a distinguished scientific pedigree, having earned his doctorate in biochemistry at UC-Berkeley, and then doing his postdoctoral fellowship in Cambridge, UK, during the 1980s. He worked there under a pair of giants in the field of antibody therapeutics—Nobel Laureate Cesar Milstein and Greg Winter.

Foote has spent much of his career thinking … Next Page »

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