Cancer-starving compound to be tested

2012-05-24 19:00
Hong Kong - Drug company Sanofi-Aventis plans to begin testing a novel compound that is designed to starve liver cancer to death in a phase one human clinical trial in China and possibly South Korea in 2013.

The compound, called slit-trap, was developed by its Chinese collaborator, Shanghai Institutes of Biological Sciences, and will soon be ready for a "first-in-man" trial.

"It is now in pre-clinical [stage] and is going into clinic early next year," chief executive officer Christopher Viehbacher said in an interview in Hong Kong.

The personalised therapy is tailored for a certain type of liver cancer patients who have high levels of a protein called slit, which nourishes the tumour and helps it spread to other parts of the body.

"If you block slit, you essentially starve the cancer to death," said Frank Jiang, Sanofi-Aventis vice-president and head of research and development in the Asia Pacific.

The company is working on ways to identify such patients who can best respond to this therapy, he said.


Though rare in the west, liver cancer is serious in Asia due to the prevalence of hepatitis B infection, which is as high as 10% in China's population of 1.3 billion people.

Chronic hepatitis B infection can result in liver cirrhosis and liver cancer later in life.

The French drug maker is uncertain what percentage of liver cancer patients in China may respond to the therapy.
"But in China, even 10% of liver cancer patients would be an incredible number," Jiang said.

In China, there are about 350 000 new liver cancer cases each year, or half of the world's total.

China, one of Sanofi's biggest emerging markets, accounts for less than 5% of its global sales. But it is growing at a much faster pace than the company's other emerging markets.

"Certainly, in five years time, you will expect China probably will be our number one emerging market," Viehbacher said. "A lot more of the growth in China has been organic."

Read more on:    cancer  |  research

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