Shortly after getting back from Philly, I sat down to write a post about my experiences at the LBBC conference and plans going forward. But I began to feel that I was merely procrastinating – before anything else, I needed write the long-promised conclusion to my series on methionine.
Why do I keep stalling?
I’ve learned so much while reading about methionine research, but I don’t know how to act on that information except to report it.
Even after my advocacy training, I’m not sure what I can do besides lobbying for increased research funding. That’s important, but the whole legislative process is so so
In my last post on methionine, I found out about methioninase, an enzyme that causes methionine to degrade rapidly. Getting methioninase injections or taking methioninase pills would be far easier than trying to follow a methionine restricted diet.
For now, though, these pills & injections are the stuff of fantasy.
I’d written to Charlene Cooper, COO of AntiCancer, Inc., the company that holds a patent for METase (a type of methioninase). I wanted to know when to expect human trials for this promising treatment.
Here’s Charlene’s reply:
Dear Marina, Thank you for your email below. We are very sorry about your diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer. AntiCancer has developed recombinant methioninase through numerous pre-clinical studies, including primates and pilot clinical trials. AntiCancer has had extensive discussions with the FDA and is ready to go forward with final toxicity studies and Phase I clinical trials. The only hurdle is funding. It is possible the “moonshot” initiative may be useful, but probabilities of funding from them are small. I am attaching for you a paper (Development of recombinant methioninase to target the general cancer-specific metabolic defect of methionine dependence: a 40-year odyssey. Expert Opin. Biol. Ther. 15, 21-31, 2015) from our President, Dr. Robert Hoffman, and another two other very important new papers on the use of methioninase in combination therapy. We manufacture recombinant methioninase on site at AntiCancer Inc. It is highly pure, but out facility does not have a good manufacturing practice (GMP) license as yet. We would like to help you and also would appreciate your views for funding methioninase, one of the most promising developing cancer therapeutics. Best regards, Charlene Charlene M. Cooper Vice President & COO Grants and Contracts Administrator Executive Assistant to Dr. Robert M. Hoffman AntiCancer Inc.
I appreciated the articles, and the time Charlene took to reply to me. But (sigh) how can funding still be a hurdle when we have the Cancer Moonshot Initiative and Mark Zuckerberg & Priscilla Chan pledging 3 billion to end/manage all disease? I have no views or particularly good ideas for funding methioninase trials. There’s MetAvivor.org, but 40k per year is the max for their grants – I suspect that’s pocket change to businesses like AntiCancer Inc. Even if their human trials could get fully funded, it would probably take years and years to see results, not to mention FDA approval.
Before could take over, I researched another company in the enzymes for oncology therapies business: Aeglea BioTherapeutics.
Founded less than three years ago, Aeglea develops engineered human enzymes invented in a lab a few miles away from me, at The University of Texas at Austin. One of the enzymes it’s working on is cystathionine-γ-lyase. It can degrade methionine like AntiCancer, Inc.’s methionine-γ-lyase enzyme, but the patent for cystathionine-γ-lyase claims that it would require less frequent injections for the same effect. More importantly, as a re-engineered version of an enzyme already found in humans, cystathionine-γ-lyase should not elicit an immune system response.
The lead author of the 2012 article on the development of cystathionine-γ-lyase, Everett Stone, still works at UT Austin, so I reached out to him. Professor Stone kindly agreed to meet with me to speak about the status of human methioninase research. It was Professor Stone who pointed me toward Aeglea – the cystathionine-γ-lyase ball is now in their court.
Aeglea does list cystathionine-γ-lyase (product candidate AEB2109) on their product pipeline page, but it’s only one of seven and not even at the phase of Pre-Investigational New Drug (Pre-IND) Application with the FDA. This application is required before any Phase 1 human trials can take place.
Again, I have no good ideas about what I can do to speed this process along. Any suggestions, dear readers?
This whole investigation into methionine & methioninase has left me feeling like:
It’s been ever so much fun, dodging this toothy shark – wonderful exercise, really! But once this boat towing me along runs out of gas, it would be great to have another one on standby to take me back to the beach.
Wooohooo, I see some boats in the distance, close enough to wave at. Hey boats, can one of you come give me a lift? Boats? Why are you crawling along so slowly? This is an especially toothy shark that I’m dealing with here, hellooooo…
Still, I refuse to give up hope for a cure, or at least more & better treatment options. Here then is my message in a bottle:
We all need to raise our voices to demand that research on metastatic cancer be prioritized and well-funded. One easy way to do this is follow and support MET UP, whose legislative advocacy goals include:
- Additional research funding for all cancer types. The National Institute of Health (NIH) currently funds ~ 8% of the grant applications it receives. That number needs to increase to 25% at the very least.
- Allocating 30% or more of federal breast cancer research dollars to metastatic research – an appropriate goal considering that ~ 30% of those who survive earlier stages of breast cancer go on to develop metastatic disease.
Together, we could help build a boat big and fast enough, as it were, to save over half a million Americans who die from toothy shark – er, cancer each year.
On a global scale, cancer cures/effective treatments would prevent the death of > 8 million people per year! Since nearly 40% of people in the US will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lifetime, you might be helping yourself or your family just as much as you’d be helping me.