Even after the Covid-19 pandemic ends, other epidemics will remain, including the cancer epidemic. But the companies developing cancer treatments did not stop work in 2020. The world is constantly on the lookout for new treatments for this disease, as existing treatments are not suitable for all. ExoProTher Medical has developed a cancer treatment with an entirely new approach, and is currently closing a seed funding round.
"It all started with the question of why cancer almost never develops in the cornea, even though it's a part of the body that is very exposed to ultraviolet radiation," says company co-founder Dr. Lana Volokh. "It turns out that what differentiates this tissue from others is a high level of the p53 protein. This protein is recognized as a genome protector, because it prevents cells from developing malignancies. If the gene encoding p53 undergoes a mutation, the cell is unprotected, which will inevitably lead to cancer. These mutations are detected in about 60% of human cancers. For example, it's very common in glioblastoma, brain cancer."
Dr. Alex Tendler, co-founder and CTO, adds: "Corneal cells can also mutate and impair p53 function, but something happens there that doesn't happen in other tissues - healthy neighboring cells secrete the protein inside nanoparticles called exosomes. So, if p53 in one cell is damaged and no longer functional, it will receive normal p53 from the neighboring cell. The mechanism protects against cancer development, and is what we want to do in other tissues as well. We've taken an evolutionary process that evolved over millions of years, and turned it into a modern systemic therapy. "
Tendler has a doctorate in neurobiology. He previously served in various scientific roles at start-ups and as the Alzheimer's treatment project manager at venture capital fund Rainbow Medical. He met Volokh at one of the medical device companies where he worked. She had previously served in engineering and management positions at startups as well as at GE Corporation.
"We saw that we worked well together," says Tendler. "I'm more technical, Lana more managerial. We're both engineers, in addition to my background in biology, and that's what led us to look at biological research in a slightly different light."
Have there been previous attempts to utilize the p53 protein?
Tendler: "There have been attempts to infect the cancer cells with genetically modified viruses, so that these cells would produce the healthy protein. However, the body rejected the viruses and the infection rate of the cancer cells was low. In addition, the human p53 protein fused with the mutated p53, which prevented the healthy protein from working. We use nanoparticles instead of viruses and animal tissue p53, which does not fuse with the damaged human p53, but still acts to protect the cells.
"Once we'd written the patent, we launched a crowdfunding campaign, because we were too early-stage for VC funding, and other initial funding solutions were not very worthwhile for us."
Volokh: "There's a high level of interest in us on the part of later-stage investors, because of our unique scientific idea, and it's clear to us that we will need a lot more money."
Are the crowdfunding investors in such an early-stage biotech company, which will need huge amounts of money later on, protected against their stakes being diluted to nothing?
Tendler: "The Exit Valley crowdfunding platform is raising money for several companies in the medical field. They're setting up a fund that will protect investors later on. They enter as a unified entity, not individual investors. Actually, in the field of cancer, there are even early stage exits, so you don't necessarily have to wait until you've raised hundreds of millions of dollars and spent 15 years of development before making an exit."
In addition to crowdfunding, the company has completed a $1 million seed private placement, including investors with previous investments in oncology.
The company's first product is a treatment for glioblastoma brain cancer. "Interestingly, it's precisely those cancers with no therapy that are the ones most likely to have this mutation," says Volokh. The product has undergone initial animal testing, and is now continuing with more comprehensive animal testing. "Our intention is to begin human trials within three years."
- Founded in 2017 by Dr. Lana Volokh and Dr. Alex Tendler
- Develops cancer treatments by injecting animal protein
- Currently employs seven people in the northern region
- Has raised about $700,000 to date
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on January 11, 2021
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