Professor Avraham Hochberg from the Hebrew University is the Chief Scientist of Biocancell, a two-year-old Israeli biotech startup specializing in the development of patient-oriented, targeted therapy for the treatment of a wide range of cancers. Biocancell was created with former Yissum President and CEO Avi Barak to develop and market Hochberg’s potentially revolutionary cancer treatment. While the company has raised a few million dollars and has begun Phase I of the clinical trials, it’s having a harder time raising the hundreds of millions necessary to complete the expensive Phase II and III clinical tests.
It all started 19 years ago when Hochberg identified the properties of a gene known as H19. The gene actually helps tumor cells survive in the body. But because H19 is active only in human fetal and cancerous cells, Hochberg has been able to create a method where the gene is used to kill cancer cells without killing healthy normal cells. The problem with chemotherapy is that healthy cells are destroyed as a side effect of killing cancerous cells. Therefore, Hochberg’s drug may prove to be groundbreaking if it ever gets approved.
There have already been positive results from the Phase I study which is being performed on urinary tract cancer patients. 56% have not had new tumor growth and 44% have had up to 50% of the tumor eliminated. For some patients the tumor/s have been completely destroyed. While this has piqued the interest of some large pharmaceutical companies, most want to see results from Phase II and III first before investing in Biocancell or buying it out completely. Of course, without the tens or hundreds of millions of dollars necessary to complete these additional trials, Biocancell won’t be able to proceed.
Recently the State of Virginia along with some biotech groups there have launched “Gateway America” which is “aimed at luring Israeli companies developing unprecedented solutions to treating ailments and terminal diseases to the US market.” Biocancell is the first company working with the Gateway America which will provide the Startup with guidance and connections that may help it raise the money necessary to complete the process and begin marketing its treatment.
By Dani Dechter