Pathological blood vessel formation (angiogenesis), or the inability of endothelial cells to perform their physiological function (endothelial dysfunction), are defining features of disease. The endothelium actively controls vessel integrity, vascular growth and remodelling, tissue growth and metabolism, immune responses, cell adhesion, angiogenesis, haemostasis and vascular permeability. It is, therefore, a vital and largely unexploited target for novel therapies.
Prof Tracy Robson’s team have identified and characterised a novel anti-angiogenic protein, FK506 binding protein like – FKBPL, significantly advancing our understanding of the anti-angiogenic process, in particular, how tumours recruit blood vessels to support their growth. This led to a collaborative study with Almac Discovery to develop therapeutic peptides based on FKBPL’s active domain to explore their potential in cancer by targeting the ability of tumours to recruit blood vessels to grow, invade and metastasise beyond the site of the primary tumour. The team are also testing the ability of these peptides to sensitise tumours to current therapies and to target cancer stem cells that lead to the onset of resistance and/or recurrent disease. Importantly, these studies led to a ‘first in man’ phase I clinical in cancer patients where the clinical candidate drug, ALM201, was very well tolerated over a wide range of doses. Prof Robson’s team (Dr Stephanie Annett and Dr Gillian Moore) will discuss this data together with new data suggesting a strong role for FKBPL in vascular endothelial dysfunction and possible implications therefore in other diseases associated with vascular disease.
Over the last 10 years, Prof Tracy Robson has collaborated closely with Almac Discovery on the development of the therapeutic peptide, ALM201, based on her initial research into the anti-angiogenic properties of FKBPL. ALM201 is part of the active anti-angiogenic domain of FKBPL and is a potent inhibitor of angiogenesis both in vitro and in vivo. The technology was patented by Professor Robson and licensed to Almac Discovery. Following collaborative pre-clinical work showing robust efficacy, this ‘first-in-class’ FKBPL-based antiangiogenic peptide has entered phase I/II clinical trials in the ovarian setting (EudraCT No: 2014-001175-31). Whilst the trial is ongoing, we have received exciting news that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has granted Orphan Drug Designation to the drug candidate ALM201 in the treatment of ovarian cancer. The FDA Office grants orphan drug designation to encourage the development of drugs for the prevention, or treatment of a medical condition affecting fewer than 200,000 people in the US and grants market exclusivity for a seven-year period if the sponsor complies with certain FDA specifications. Receiving Orphan Drug Designation for ovarian cancer underlines the fact that ALM201 may address a significant unmet medical need for this important disease.
A New Year…and a new challenge for MCT postdoctoral researcher Gillian Moore
Between the post-Christmas blues, cold days and that painful wait for the next pay day, January can be a pretty long and gruelling month. This year, deviating from the norm, my January kicked off to a great start with my eagerly awaited move to RCSI. Before Christmas I was delighted to find out that I would be working alongside Prof. Tracy Robson in the Department of MCT and I’m really excited for 2017, and the new opportunities and challenges this postdoctoral research position has to offer.
An ongoing research collaboration between the Robson research group and leading oncology pharmaceutical company, ALMAC Discovery, resulted in the development of ALM201, an anti-cancer peptide-based drug currently in Phase I clinical trial for patients with solid tumours. ALM201 is structurally based on the naturally occurring protein, FKBPL. FKBPL and its peptide-derivative, ALM201, have demonstrated potent anti-angiogenic properties, and notably, a unique ability to target cancer stem cells. Targeting of cancer stem cells has arguably become the Holy Grail of cancer therapy in recent years. Within the mass of every tumour there is a subpopulation of cancer cells with the ability to self-regenerate. It is this cell population that are responsible for the initiation and propagation of a tumour, and recurrence of disease following resistance to chemo and/or radiotherapy. If we can robustly target the bulk of the tumour in addition to any residual cancer stem cells then we can potentially circumvent progression and indeed recurrence of disease.
Ovarian cancer is one of the top ten most common cancers in women and is associated with a poor prognosis, primarily due to the late presentation of disease. In the coming months, the next stage in the clinical trial of ALM201 will involve the treatment of a cohort of ovarian cancer patients. Recent, unpublished preclinical data in the Robson group has indicated promising anti-cancer stem cell efficacy of ALM201 in the ovarian cancer setting. I am interested in understanding the molecular mechanisms that underpin this observed anti-cancer stem cell activity of ALM201. A new phase of academic research funding from ALMAC Discovery will enable us to carry out this work. While the specific targeting of ovarian cancer stem cells is a relatively new research field, it has potential to provide much needed alternate treatment options for this aggressive tumour type and may have implications for other malignancies.
It’s great to be part of MCT at RCSI and I’m looking forward to sharing our research findings as the project develops.