01/03/2016 - 13:13

Immunology shows cancer promise

01/03/2016 - 13:13

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A private company backed by Curtin University has announced a breakthrough in the treatment of several cancers in small animals, with trials set to commence in humans and dogs. 

LEAD: Ken Wyatt is heading up Selvax’s Perth trial treating cancer in dogs. Photos: Attila Csaszar

A private company backed by Curtin University has announced a breakthrough in the treatment of several cancers in small animals, with trials set to commence in humans and dogs.

Selvax, which has developed a system to administer immunological agents directly into tumours, prompting the body’s own immune system to attack the cancer, has achieved a greater than 80 per cent clearance rate for lung cancer and mesothelioma, and a 60 per cent clearance rate for pancreatic cancer in mice.

In conjunction with an oncology institute in Europe, Selvax will start a trial on 20 to 30 people with head and neck tumours by the end of the year, and is in the very early stages of trialling treatment in Perth on 18 dogs with soft tissue sarcoma.

Selvax chief executive Tony Fitzgerald told Business News the company had focused on cancers without viable alternative treatment options, and hoped to eventually develop products for humans as well as companion animals, high-value horses and zoo animals.

“We tested it on three cancers which are really difficult,” Mr Fitzgerald said.

“Pancreatic, which Steve Jobs with all his money couldn’t manage to get himself cured, mesothelioma, which at the moment there is no treatment for at all (if you get it you have on average 12 months to live), and lung cancer, which is also very often fatal.”

Curtin University immunologist Delia Nelson, who is leading Selvax’s research, said she had been encouraged by early results and was keeping cautiously optimistic at this stage.

“I like the word promising,” she said.

“I’m a bit scared to go ‘oh wow we’re going to cure everything’. I think that the dogs will be very interesting.”

Veterinary oncologist Ken Wyatt, who is running the dog trial, said a successful outcome could lead to an influx of private investment to drive further research.

“The more science that happens, the better it will become,” Dr Wyatt said.

Dr Nelson said immunotherapy research globally had delivered many exciting results, with Selvax’s method focused on delivering a short, blunt hit of two reagents that activated immune cells to attack cancer and ensure they lived longer than normal to ensure tumour regression.

“I think the reason it works is because it’s so straight forward and simple,” she said.

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