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Successful treatments for cancer have never been more important

April 22, 2020
Mette Nielsen

Successful treatments for cancer have never been more important

It is impossible to overstate the unprecedented disruptions the world is facing with COVID-19. Stock markets have plunged worldwide and our healthcare system is overworked. It seems every time you turn on the television or open your phone there is more breathless coverage of the epidemic. There is little time for anything else in the media and the collective attention than the threat of COVID-19, both as a disease and as a crisis.

It is impossible to overstate the unprecedented disruptions the world is facing with COVID-19. Stock markets have plunged worldwide and our healthcare system is overworked. It seems every time you turn on the television or open your phone there is more breathless coverage of the epidemic. There is little time for anything else in the media and the collective attention than the threat of COVID-19, both as a disease and as a crisis.

While the coronavirus pandemic is necessarily demanding urgent, universal attention in an attempt to curtail potentially deadly infections, it is important to note that millions of patients in the world are still suffering from other very serious diseases, such as cancer, and are still in need of effective treatments.

With over 10 million deaths every year, cancer is still the leading cause of death worldwide according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) – and the need to treat these patients certainly will not be going anywhere.

It’s never easy to be diagnosed with cancer but these times, patients face an extra layer of complexity. Do they go to hospital to get treated and risk exposure or do they postpone treatment? This is a decision no one should have to make, and is a reminder that the fight against cancer is still as, if not more, important than ever.

A WHO study revealed that cancer patients who contract COVID-19 are five times as likely to die compared with healthy people. Their compromised immune system makes them more vulnerable.
This makes it hard for both healthcare professionals and patients to choose the right course of action.

Lynn Schuchter, an oncologist at the University of Pennsylvania’s Abramson Cancer Center outlined this catch-22 perfectly by stating “What’s the greater risk? delaying treatment or bringing patients in from home?”.

How long patients can afford to wait mainly depends on the type of cancer and how aggressive it is. For example, some thyroid and early-stage prostate cancers have high survival rates. Treatment can be postponed for those, but it’s impossible to postpone treatment for aggressive leukemia and lymphoma which are much more deadly.

A disease like cancer would immuno-compromise patients under the best of circumstances – but the most common treatments are basically poison for the body and weakens patient immunity on top of that.

Common treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation work by destroying rapidly multiplying cells, healthy cells included, and therefore cause a patient to be more vulnerable to infections such as COVID-19.

For many patients, these therapies also do not work well enough.

Chemotherapy and radiation therapy are both ways of killing any type of cell, especially cells that are growing quickly. They are used to disrupt, amongst other things, the replication of the cell by messing with its DNA repair. Many people on chemotherapy will lose their hair and suffer other side effects, because the drug is indiscriminately killing any cell that happens to be growing quickly, including the hair follicle cells involved in hair replication.

As not all cancers are the same, it’s hard to create a drug that works for every single type of cancer. Also, many patients become resistant to cancer drugs, in a bit the same way they would develop antibiotic resistance.

For many cancer patients for whom no other therapy has worked, clinical trials are a last resort. But in the times of COVID-19 more and more such trials have been forced to shut down.

“We’re going to see a nearly complete close-down in clinical research,” says Tim Dyer, chief executive of Addex Therapeutics, a biotechnology company based in Geneva, Switzerland. “The health-care systems will simply be overloaded.”

Many similar trials across the globe have followed suit.

“It’s hard to believe that just a month ago, I’d never seen cancer clinical trials better,” says Roy Herbst, lung-cancer researcher at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. “Now the whole process has really ground to a halt, and I feel bad because there are patients who might have benefited from those trials.”

Cancer is still the same huge problem as before the crisis so the clinical trials that still have funding are more pivotal than ever.

There are still trials out there with funding, taking in patients and continuing their life saving work in creating new and better therapies.

They give hope for patients who have exhausted all other options and, maybe even more significantly, continue the important work towards finding treatments that work better and have fewer adverse effects than treatments currently available.

One Australian company with sufficient funding to continue clinical trials is Prescient Therapeutics (PTX). Importantly, they have not experienced the trial disruptions that have plagued many other companies. They’re currently trialling two exciting new personalised drugs PTX-100 and PTX-200 that solve many of the problems with traditional therapies, and have shown promising results in trials. They’re also working on developing new approaches to CAR T cancer therapy, a new game-changing treatment approach that has demonstrated an incredible 90% full remission rate for certain blood cancers.

PTX recently announced that their Phase 1b study of PTX-100 (a personalised cancer medicine that works by inhibiting the survival pathways that play a key role on the development and evolution of cancerous cells) will proceed to the next dose level following successful completion of the first cohort of patients. The positive safety profile of the first cohort has allowed the company to proceed to the next dose level of 1,000 mg/m2 as well as expand with an additional Australian clinical trial site. The trial consists of patients who are heavily pre-treated with advanced cancers, so these are very positive news in the face of substantial global disruptions.

Click here to stay up to date on PTX as they continue to take the fight to cancer.

 

Reach Markets have been engaged by PTX to assist with private investor management.

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