Researchers Develop New Protein To Fight Brain Cancer

November 25, 1997

Hershey, Pa. -- Penn State's College of Medicine, in collaboration with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), have licensed an anticancer immunotherapeutic drug to NeoPharm Inc., an Illinois-based biotechnology company. Researchers have developed the new protein that helps in the fight against brain cancer.

The new protein, IL13-PE38QQR, is a combination of interleukin 13, a protein found in the body, and a toxic bacterial protein, Pseudomonas exotoxin. The interleukin 13 penetrates a range of brain cancer cells. These cells are covered by receptor sites which accept the interleukin 13. However, when the interleukin 13 is combined with Pseudomonas exotoxin, it creates this new protein which kills the cancerous cells in the brain and does not harm the healthy cells. Investigators add that the work so far has been limited to a laboratory, but feel this work holds great hope for humans.

"There are several things that are important in fighting brain cancer. The treatment must be specific, the potency must be correct and the delivery system is also a key. We are very pleased to pioneer the transfer of such a new method of pharmaceutical therapy to industry," says Waldemar Debinski, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of surgery and director of tumor research. Debinski says this protein will be delivered through the skull by a needle and patients may be able to be awake during the procedure.

"Twenty thousand Americans will be diagnosed with brain cancer each year. Most people will eventually die from it. Eighty percent die within two years, and there are almost no survivors after five years," says Debinski.

Dr. Raj K. Puri of the FDA is a co-inventor of the technology. He and Debinski have worked together for a number of years. Debinski adds that he is pleased that Penn State's College of Medicine can witness a research compound making the journey from bench to clinic.

"This is designed primarily to fight brain cancer. However, I anticipate that it will be applicable to a range of different types of cancer," adds Debinski. He also hopes to begin human clinical trials within a year.

He says it can often take about 10 years for such a drug to reach the public. However, based on his work so far, and with very enthusiastic and effective participation by NeoPharm, he believes the process may go faster, and the drug could reach patients within just a few years.


Leilyn Perri
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M. Steven Bortner
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