Mitigating the side effects of chemotherapy

BioSight aims to raise $1 million to $2 million to continue clinical trials of its drug-directing technology.BioSight, a biotech startup that began in the Misgav high-tech incubator in Israel, focuses on making anti-cancer drugs more effective in order to solve …

BioSight aims to raise $1 million to $2 million to continue clinical trials of its drug-directing technology.BioSight, a biotech startup that began in the Misgav high-tech incubator in Israel, focuses on making anti-cancer drugs more effective in order to solve a painful problem – the side effects of chemotherapy drugs that damage all of the body’s systems.

Only 0.1 to 2 percent of most drugs used for treating cancer reach the tumor itself while the remaining 98 percent are spread over the entire body, damaging its internal and immune systems. Thus, cancer patients worldwide are in sore need of a therapy that would steer the drugs to the cancer cells and bypass the healthy cells.

BioSight Chief Executive Officer Stela Gengrinovitch said the company is trying to build such a system for controlling drugs and confining them to the tumor site, a system that would act like a kind of drug-directing traffic cop. Under the system, chemotherapy drugs are connected to carriers linked to the tumor. The drug only begins to take effect when it is released from the carrier after it finds the tumor. These carriers have been determined in laboratory tests to bring more than 90 percent of the drug directly to the tumor, Gengrinovich said.

Existing approved cancer treatments are based on the difference in the rate of multiplication of cancer cells versus normal cells. But, since all body cells multiply, though at different rates, the drugs attack normal cells as well as cancer cells. BioSight’s system finds the cancer cells by seeking “markers” located on the surface of the cancer cells that distinguish them from normal cells. The drug carriers hook up with those markers and function as road signs showing the drug the way to the tumor.

BioSight works with recombinant chemistry, which does not rely on existing molecules as its raw material, but constructs proteins from scratch using amino acids. Chemical changes can be introduced as required in the process that creates a single molecule that includes both the drug and the carrier. Gengrinovitch said these laboratory-built carriers are not only safer, but also dissolve easily, thereby giving the active material better movement in the bloodstream.

In addition, the molecule must release the drug only when it reaches the tumor. This means the markers to which the molecule hooks up must also be integrated within the cell. In other words, a traffic sign is not enough; a parking place is required or the carrier will not enter the cell.

Gengrinovitch said other companies use monoclonal antibodies, to connect drugs, but “their system is very expensive. It’s not enough to create a new molecule out of an old one. A biological cell does not stop working. You still have to map your protein/antibody within… the cell,” she said. “That makes the system much more expensive, because you have to grow substantial quantities of cells for the purpose. In addition, there is at present no 100 percent clean biological material. With us, since the molecule is chemically constructed, you can exercise control at every stage.”

The company was founded in 1999 based on an idea of Gengrinovitch’s, who earned her doctorate at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology. BioSight was founded in the Misgav incubator, but Gengrinovitch complains that because infrastructure and basic equipment were lacking – which she said is typical of incubators – most laboratory work was done on the Technion campus. “I had to build everything from scratch. Even basic things were lacking in the laboratory, such as water and gases for an incubator that grows cells.”

BioSight has obtained most of its financing, $350,000 out of a total of $410,000 invested, from Israel’s Office of the Chief Scientist. Since the technology is designed to solve a problem with existing drugs, BioSight wants to enter strategic partnerships with pharmaceutical, biopharmaceutical, and chemical companies.

BioSight is also trying to raise $1 million to $2 million to continue its clinical trials. The company has approached both foreign and Israeli venture capital funds, but VCs are still sitting on the fence, as far as seed investments are concerned, in the present economic climate.

BioSight is now at the stage of clinical trials on animals, after proving feasibility in the laboratory, and trials will continue in 2002.