Cancer breakthrough could help millions

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A cancer product which could improve the efficiency of chemotherapy by up to 400 per cent is being developed by a small Borders firm.

Selkirk-based EctoPharma has been given a grant of £70,000 to continue research into Ryboquin which offers fresh hopes for millions of cancer patients.

The company is combining technologies developed by two world-leading research institutions which will enable the gel-type substance to improve chemotherapy treatments against a range of common cancers.

Chief executive Alan Walker said he believes it will revolutionise cancer treatments across the world.

He said he is “very excited” about the product as initial tests have shown that cancer cells are up to 400 per cent more sensitive to chemotherapy from existing drugs when treated with Ryboquin.

Mr Walker explained: “The benefits to patients will be enormous.

“Obviously chemotherapy will be more effective, but for those people who react badly to chemotherapy, their dosages will be able to be reduced as a result of this.

“This grant will enable us to continue our research and development of the product.

“The way is now clear for us to accelerate the development programme of a product that could transform the lives of millions of cancer patients around the world.

“I believe the work we are carrying out could act as a major beacon for the vitally important Scottish life-science sector as a whole.”

A phase one study involving pancreatic cancer patients is to be launched in 2012 and depending on a successful conclusion to that, EctoPharma will seek a deal with a major pharmaceutical company to launch the product on the American market by 2014.

Mr Walker pointed out that only 13 per cent of people with cancer of the pancreas survive more than a year, but he believes the pioneering treatment would boost the body’s ability to fight the cancer. The London School of Pharmacy is allowing EctoPharma to use the nano-technology it has developed which could be used to deliver genes direct to cancer cells.

An agreement has also been struck with the Medical Research Council to use its gene technology which regulates the levels of the p73 protein. This protein helps the body kill cancerous cells because it makes them more sensitive to chemotheraphy. 
Mr Walker – who has been in the pharmaceutical industry for more than 30 years – says that by combining the technologies EctoPharma should be able to complete the testing and regulatory approval process relatively quickly.

As 80,000 people die annually in the US and Europe from cancer, the market for an effective product would be huge. Mr Walker believes it could generate sales of $500million annually – to be shared by EctoPharma 
its partners, and the companies involved in production and marketing.

EctoPharma has received backing from 150 investors.

Scottish Enterprise’s Smart:Scotland scheme – which backs innovative research projects – is supporting EctoPharma’s research with a maximum grant of £70,000.

Programme executive Dr Chris McNab said: “Companies like EctoPharma with a commitment to commercially focused 
research and development are those best placed to compete and grow.

“EctoPharma is using major advances in biotechnology for the development of Ryboquin.

“This project has the potential to bring hope to cancer sufferers and their families worldwide as well as growing Scotland’s reputation as a global centre of innovation in life sciences.”

EctoPharma hopes to launch a product to treat head lice next year, which has been developed in the same way.