Hemogenyx's (LSE:HEMO) leukaemia treatment thought to be biotechnology's next big thing

By @chelean on
A bible is placed on the bed of a three-month old baby suffering from leukaemia at the paediatric cancer section of the Hospital Escuela in Tegucigalpa September 10, 2012. Reuters/Jorge Cabrera

More than one million people in the United States alone have leukaemia, a debilitating blood-based cancer that saps them of strength, makes them more vulnerable to illnesses, and causes difficulty in breathing.

The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society paints an even grimmer picture. This year alone, one person will be diagnosed to have contracted this blood cancer every three minutes. And another leukaemia patient is expected to die of the medical condition every nine minutes. The most recommended form of treatment — a transplant of a donor’s bone marrow into the patient — can also prove to be the most difficult or, at the very least, elusive.

Only six out of ten patients who have applied for a donated organ in the medical establishment they frequent will be able to receive treatment. There are also not many donors available who can give the needed bone marrow. What is worse is that even if a bone marrow transplant is successful, 50 percent of the patients who undergo it suffer an organ breakdown or relapse. This failure can bring them back to the operating room, reel them in again into the cycle of waiting for another donor, and ultimately compromise their health.

The numbers cited in the last two statements are part of the research uncovered by Hemogenyx Pharmaceuticals (LSE:HEMO), an emerging biotechnology company who has received attention for its groundbreaking treatment of leukaemia and other severe blood cancers. What makes its alternative treatments attractive for the patients and their families who act as their support system is that they remove the toxicity of the conditioning phase and eliminate the need for a donor. The source of the treatment is organic and comes from the patient himself. As such, the possibility of any relapse likewise disappears.

To understand the significance of the breakthrough that Hemogenyx offers, one must first be aware of what leukaemia is and how it infects the body. As described by Medical News Today, leukaemia is an unusual explosion of white blood cells within the patient’s bone marrow. Instead of dying like normal cells after their lifespan has expired, these unhealthy ones continue their multiplication until they crowd out the former. Patients soon weaken as the spread of the cancerous cells floods their bloodstream. Blood clotting, a damaged immune system, anaemia, fever and chills and constant fatigue are just some of the symptoms they suffer.

Because the origin of cancer comes from the bone marrow, traditional medicine resorts to removing the offensive organ and replacing it with a relatively new one, sourced from another person or the donor. The relapse happens when the donated bone marrow proves incompatible for a variety of reasons with the patient’s physiological system.

Higher chance of survival

The treatments discovered and continually being developed by Hemogenyx’s founder and CEO, Dr Vladislav Sandler, address both the conditioning phase and transplant stage of bone marrow transplants.

“A typical bone marrow transplant is subdivided into two phases. Phase number one is conditioning or preparation of the patient for the bone marrow transplant. Phase number two is the actual transplantation of blood stem cells. Both of these phases have severe limitations. Addressing these issues, we’re developing two novel product candidates, the CDX antibodies treatment and Hu-PHECs that we think are much better than anything in existence today,” Dr. Sandler explained.

Its CDX antibodies do away with chemotherapy as preparation to condition patients for their eventual surgery. Many patients have reported the ill side effects of these chemotherapeutic agents, with or without radiation. Cancer.org enumerates them as follows: hair loss, weight loss, nausea, constipation, numbness, and loss of concentration and focus. Other symptoms caused by leukaemia such as anaemia and constant fatigue also remain.

Hemogenyx lists the following more severe side effects of chemotherapy: high mortality rates, high morbidity rates, radiation damage to the heart or lungs, problems with the thyroid or other hormone-making glands, problems with fertility, damage to bones or problems with bone growth, or development of another cancer years later.

These can be described as the casualties of the war, unleashed by toxic chemotherapy drugs against cancer, which also damages the healthy body tissue and not just the malignant ones. Worst of all, chemotherapy can kill the patient it is trying to heal.

Hemogenyx’s answer to chemotherapy is CDX antibodies, which are unique, non-toxic and highly specific in nature. Once intravenously administered, they reprogram the patient’s own healthy immune cells to fight their cancerous blood stem cell. According to Sandler, “CDX antibodies have the potential to both eliminate malignant leukemic cells and increase the efficiency of conditioning while diminishing the side effects that accompany traditional methods of patient conditioning.”

Sandler hopes this type of antibody will eliminate chemotherapy and radiation and solve the problem of non-specific toxicity of these treatments and their distressing side effects. After the conditioning, patients needing a bone marrow or blood stem cell transplant usually will have to look for a compatible donor. Hemogenyx said it also solves that with its second technology.

Hu-PHEC-based therapy (postnatal hemogenic stem cells) is a revolutionary treatment that changes the game for the medical field as far as leukemia is concerned. These Hu-PHECs, also known as adult hemogenic endothelial (AHE) cells, are culled from the patient’s liver tissues or, in the case of a mother, her umbilical cord. They are then developed and infused into their body as healthy, cancer-free blood stem cells.

“We’re trying to solve the problems associated with the second phase of any bone marrow transplant by using the cells that I discovered when I was at Cornell,” Sandler said. “This approach will improve the outcome of the transplant simply because they are a 100 percent match to the patient and they did not accumulate mutations and chromosome rearrangements that are usually accumulated by standard blood stem cells of the patient.”

A donor becomes entirely inconsequential, and patients do not have to endure a long, and possibly hopeless, waiting game in order to get their condition attended to. Second, given that the patient himself or herself is the donor for Hemogenyx’s cell therapy, the patient’s chances of survival and recovery go much higher. Meanwhile, the probability of a transplant rejection decreases significantly — if not completely eliminated.

It is expected that the market of leukaemia patients will grow as word starts spreading about Hemogenyx’s breakthrough alternative. There were at least 60,000 bone marrow transplants in the U.S. and Europe in 2015 alone. The estimated value of all these surgeries is about £ 9 billion (AU$15.34 billion), and £ 3.7 billion (AU$6.31 billion) of this amount was spent on conditioning like chemotherapy.

The number of potential Hemogenyx patients is forecasted to surpass this, as not all leukaemia patients choose to have surgery or subject themselves to chemotherapy, or as discussed earlier, the absence of a donor prevents them from undergoing a bone marrow transplant. This still unaccounted number of people who cannot receive the traditional treatment for leukaemia is an underserved market that Hemogenyx can capture. But as Sandler sees it, there is much more than just money.

“We’re trying to significantly improve bone marrow transplants—the procedure itself—and this will allow to deliver it to more people who cannot get this procedure today. This will ultimately translate into saving a lot of lives.”

Clinical trials are being conducted and will be completed in 18 months. Soon enough, Hemogenyx’s cell therapy will be out in the market, engineering what many of its supporters have described as a radically new age in combating blood diseases.