The first Australian patient with leukaemia has been treated with a new investigational anti-cancer drug designed to target cancerous, but not healthy cells.
The drug, KB004, a therapeutic antibody designed to target and destroy cancer cells in blood cancers and solid tumors, is based on research led by Associate Professor Martin Lackmann of Monash University's Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.
A Phase-one clinical trial sponsored by the US Company, KaloBios Pharmaceuticals, began at the Alfred Hospital in the first weeks of 2012. The US arm of the trial began last year.
Associate Professor Lackmann and collaborators, including Professor Andrew Boyd from the Queensland Institute of Medical Research, and Professor Andrew Scott from the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research, developed an early version of the antibody on which KB004 is based.
“We are very excited to see progression of KB004 into the clinic, and in particular to be part of the multi-centre trial that allows us to treat leukaemia patients at the Alfred Hospital,” Dr. Lackmann said.
Dr Andrew Wei of Monash University's Australian Centre for Blood Diseases is leading the medical team at the Alfred conducting the clinical trial, along with clinicians based at the MD Anderson and Moffitt Cancer Centres in the US.
“The target of KB004 is believed to be present almost exclusively on cancer cells and on cells in the cancerous tissue that keep cancer cells alive. This means the drug will directly affect only malignant cells, whilst sparing normal blood cells, unlike chemotherapies that have severe side effects," Dr Wei said.
KB004 was engineered by a team of scientists at KaloBios Pharmaceuticals in South San Francisco, using proprietary technology to develop Associate Professor Lackmann's research into a drug with enhanced therapeutic functions.
KaloBios’ Chief Scientific Officer, Dr Geoffrey Yarranton, said the specificity of the antibody for cancer cells, combined with a design which ensures that there is very low potential for the body to react to it, are some of KB004’s great attributes.
“Our experience to date suggests that KB004 may only target cancer cells, but not healthy white blood cells, a property that differentiates it from many other cancer drugs,” Dr Yarranton said.
While the current trial is recruiting only patients with blood cancers such as acute and chronic leukaemias, myelodysplastic syndromes, myeloproliferative diseases, and multiple myeloma, the protein targeted by KB004 is also present in solid tumours, meaning the antibody may be effective against a range of cancers.
“We believe this antibody has the potential to provide significant benefit to a range of patients with blood cancers or solid tumours, given its potential to attack different types of cancerous cells,” Dr Lackmann said.