In his Pulitzer-Prize winning book, The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee paints a picture of cancer not as one disease that could be reversed with a single, magic bullet, but of a multi-headed hydra: different diseases that take different forms. His book elegantly details research and treatments since the early Egyptians, and it becomes clear that scientists have had more success fighting some types of cancers than others.
Because cancers are derived from our own misguided cells, they can be as individual as we are. A large number of companies are now studying ways to fight cancer at the genetic level. One of the more promising is immunotherapy treatment that seeks to attack the cancer within by activating the host’s immune system.
Not all approaches are viable. A highly personalized therapy to treat prostate cancer (Provenge) failed, likely because it required a series of three blood draws, extremely complex cellular engineering and subsequent re-infusions that came at a hefty price ($93,000), offering just a few more months of life on average. We want to get rid of cancer, but quickly, easily and all at once. Might as well add world peace to such a wish list!
But there is a light on the horizon. At VCapital, we consider the work being done by Intensity Therapeutics as close to a magic bullet as anything we’ve seen in the past 25 years. It’s a new cancer treatment method described as in situ vaccination. Intensity’s patent-pending approach follows this clear, albeit simplified, progression:
- A unique blend of cytotoxins are injected directly into a malignant, solid tumor, killing it.
- The remains of the attenuated tumor begin to attract immune cells.
- The immune cells learn what is cancer and what is not, activating the memory part of the immune system for a number of cancer types.
- The newly educated immune cells attack and kill metastases, and can prevent those cancers from recurring anywhere in the body.
Intensity’s most recent work demonstrated success in mice given pancreatic, breast and colon cancers. For those animals experiencing a complete reversal of symptoms, 90% were fully protected from a recurrence of the cancer for their lifetime. It cured cancer. These studies (and results) have been successfully reproduced by the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health (NIC/NIH). While this is a huge step forward, there is still a ways to go, since the testing to date has only been in mice. Human trials are next.
I can’t help but dream about the possibility of Intensity’s work helping people with solid tumor cancers, including those considered inoperable. Of not just giving them a few more months, but a lifetime. I lost my mother to colon cancer when she was just 43; my father to lung cancer at 49. There was no magic bullet then, and there isn’t one yet. So while I worry that I won’t be around to watch my children and grandchildren grow, I’m hopeful that companies like Intensity will have the financial support they need to take their product through human trials, then to market.
And the market will be huge. Most (90%) of the cancer deaths worldwide are from late-stage or solid tumors. Instead of weeks of on-again-off-again toxic radiation and chemotherapy infusions, Intensity’s DfuseRx™ platform requires a single injection (the “bullet”) of a comparably small amount of chemo into the site of the tumor, then letting it work its magic.
Can venture capital cure cancer?
Investing in promising, early stage companies helps them continue important research, explore novel theories and find innovative ways to deliver treatments that work. At VCapital, we’re investing because we believe in what Intensity is doing and excited by the results they are seeing. Their impressive scientific advisory board agrees.
No one person or company or investment will cure all cancer everywhere. Yet, Intensity Therapeutics may have found a magic bullet to kill a lot of it. Imagine what that could be worth. Join us.