How Noxopharm spent a pandemic-plagued 2020 leading the fight against cancer

Amid the tragedy of 2020’s global COVID-19 pandemic, it’s easy to forget the horrors inflicted on hundreds of thousands of Australians by another deadly illness: cancer.

Amid the tragedy of 2020’s global COVID-19 pandemic, it’s easy to forget the horrors inflicted on hundreds of thousands of Australians by another deadly illness: cancer.

In the past year it’s estimated that just under 150,000 Australians were diagnosed with cancer, and a little under 50,000 cancer patients are expected to have passed away.

But as pharmaceutical giants Pfizer and Moderna turned their attention to the novel coronavirus currently rampaging across most of the globe, local pharmaceutical firm Noxopharm has been steadily working to advance its anti-cancer weapon, Veyonda.

And it could open up a hundred-billion dollar market opportunity in one of the largest global drug market sectors.

To stay up to date on the growing market for immunotherapies, register your interest here.

The drug increases the efficacy of other cancer treatments (including radio- and chemotherapies) and helps the human immune system to identify and attack cancerous tumours.

Developed over the course of two and a half decades by Noxopharm CEO Graham Kelly, the past 12 months have seen work on the drug take significant new steps.


“We moved into Phase 2 trialling last year, so we’ve advanced the whole drug development process by taking that step from Phase 1,” Dr Kelly told Reach Markets.


“But by a country mile the thing that has been the major change this year has been a better understanding of how the drug works.

Most pharmaceuticals are developed through a process referred to as ‘rational drug design’, where researchers identify a problem within the body they wish to solve, investigate the chemical processes behind it, and create something specifically to address that issue.



Veyonda was however identified firstly through a nutrition research program into the anti-cancer effects of soy beans

Dr Kelly recognised that one of the chemicals produced by the body after eating soy beans helped reduce the risk of developing cancer – from here, he and his team were able to isolate the chemical – idronoxil – and turn it into a drug.

While Dr Kelly and his team understood how to use the drug and what it did for patients, exactly how Veyonda worked wasn’t fully understood until this year.


“We finally figured out that it’s working principally by restoring the immune function inside tumours,” Dr Kelly said.


Register your interest here to be kept up to date on the growing market for immunotherapies.


New discovery opens door for big 2021 

This new information helps pave the way for further – and possibly faster – drug development in 2021.

Importantly, understanding how Veyonda helps the human immune system to identify and fight cancerous cells is allowing Noxopharm to work with the manufacturers of other treatments to see whether the drug can improve the response rates of other medications.

Currently response rates for other immunotherapies – referring to the percentage of patients for whom these treatments actually work – fall between 10% and 20%, and they only work for some types of cancer.

But where they do work, Dr Kelly said, the results are “spectacular” – prompting other major pharmaceutical companies to get involved.


“This is unquestionably the biggest drug market sector in the  world – they stand to make more money out of this than anything else,” he said.


The current market for approved immunotherapies is worth $US30 billion a year, despite only being useable in 5% of cancer patients.

Increasing response rates to 50% would theoretically grow that market to $US300 billion, Dr Kelly said.

The problem most immunotherapies have is that while they train the immune system to erode the chemical armour tumours build around themselves, they can’t get the immune cells into the tumour itself due to another chemical produced by the cancer.

Noxopharm believes Veyonda is currently the only drug which eradicates the chemical responsible for this.

This means it can improve the response rates of other immunotherapies, and other manufacturers like Bristol Myers Squibb (BMS) are now looking to collaborate with Noxopharm

BMS has even commenced a trial pairing its drug Opdivo – which generated $US8 billion last year alone – with Veyonda to test whether the combination will improve response rates (see the ASX announcement 9 November 2020).


“You basically only have to double the response rate to get massive sales,” Dr Kelly said.


The first results from these tests are expected to begin rolling in in the 3rd quarter of 2021.


To immuno-oncology and Veyonda: How the drug works

Immunotherapies like Veyonda work to retrain the human immune system to be able to fight cancerous cells.


Source: Cancer Research Institute


These treatments differ from chemotherapy and radiation treatments in that they often spare patients the side effects commonly associated with fighting cancer – including hair loss and nausea.

They also offer the possibility of long-term remission, because the immune system not only learns to attack cancer cells, but ‘remembers’ what these cells look like and how to fight them.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt that immunotherapy is the future; it can be safe, and it can be highly effective” Dr Kelly said.


“You don’t need to be poisoning people to get something to work – that’s been the old concept, that unless you’re somehow damaging the person your drug probably isn’t working.”


To stay up to date on the growing market for immunotherapies, register your interest here.




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