Written by Kevin Volz.
Cancer treatments like chemotherapy and radiation have been used for decades, but often pose serious health risks. A person’s body can only handle a certain amount of treatment — and chemo and radiation can cause cancer cells to mutate and multiply. This can result in the disease coming back stronger and more aggressive. Red5 Pharmaceuticals in Cleveland, Ohio, is developing a new drug therapy that would destroy cancer cells when paired with traditional treatments, greatly lessening the chance the cancer will mutate.
“Without our treatment, a patient might only respond to chemotherapy for a year. After that, the cancer cells can begin to mutate and become highly resistant, and much more aggressive,” said Red5 Pharmaceuticals co-founder and chief scientific officer, Dr. Anthony Berdis. “Our lab tests have a 70 percent success rate of eliminating an aggressive form of brain cancer by pairing our compound with traditional chemotherapy. If we get similar results in human studies, patients will be able to receive fewer treatments because our compound makes the current therapy more effective.”
In addition to new cancer treatments, Red5 Pharmaceuticals is also developing a diagnostic kit that indicates if a patient’s cancer cells are likely to mutate during therapy. The kit examines a biopsy of a tumor and helps doctors determine the most effective treatment for their patients. Without these tests, doctors could wait up to two months for CT scans and MRIs to show if a tumor is growing or shrinking.
“In some cases, like brain cancer, that initial six week period is crucial for success rates because the cancer is growing so rapidly,” said Berdis. “With our diagnostic kit, we can tell the oncologist right away if radiation is going to be effective in a patient, and recommend other treatment options if it is not.”
Berdis has worked since graduate school to research why certain cancer cells replicate the way they do. He began experimenting with compounds developed in his lab that would further destroy already damaged cells to prevent them from replicating. Once he discovered a solution, he enlisted the help of his colleague, Tim Miller, to start Red5 Pharmaceuticals.
The company was awarded a $60,000 Technology Validation and Start-up Fund (TVSF) grant from Ohio Third Frontier, which was used to develop the diagnostic kit. Red5 Pharmaceuticals currently has eight employees and plans to expand their research and development department in 2016. Berdis says they are looking for the best researchers to help test their products.
“We’re hoping to begin clinical trials within the next two years,” said Berdis. “We’re currently testing our compounds on glioblastoma, one of the deadliest and most aggressive forms of cancer. The faster we can get the medication FDA approved, the more patients we can help.”
Red5 Pharmaceuticals is working to expand its research to find new ways to treat breast, ovarian and pancreatic cancer. Berdis is currently an associate professor at Cleveland State University and a member of the Case Comprehensive Cancer Center. He says the area is rich in researchers and hospitals that are all willing to support his business and the fight against cancer.
“Cleveland has a fantastic foothold in biotech,” said Berdis. “I am able to interact with clinicians who provide an enormous amount of insight into current cancer treatments and possible pitfalls so we can help eradicate cancer.”