Feinstein partnering with Australian pharma

John Boockvar, co-director of the Feinstein Center's brain tumor research.

The Feinstein Institute for Medical Research has inked a partnership deal with Novogen, an Australian pharmaceuticals giant and parent company of San Diego-based MEI Pharma, which produces a growing list of anti-cancer drugs already in the clinical stage.

The collaboration is intended to develop new pharmaceutical treatments to battle brain cancers, which are currently treated by surgical removal, which traumatizes surrounding healthy brain tissue, and chemotherapy, which is limited by the brain’s natural defenses against foreign substances circulating through the blood.

Another treatment, radiotherapy, is the most common treatment for brain-based tumors but has a long list of negative side effects, particularly in children.

Dr. John Boockvar, co-director of the Feinstein Institute’s Brain Tumor Biotech Center, said this resistance to traditional cancer therapies makes the need for newer, better brain-cancer pharmaceuticals paramount.

“Patients who suffer from brain cancer don’t have optimal therapies to turn to,” Boockvar said in announcing the collaboration. “By offering them new, improved treatments, we will give hope to patients who face a devastating disease.”

Researchers at the Feinstein Institute, part of the North Shore-LIJ Health System, are already making progress on new treatments for the two most common types of brain tumors, glioblastoma and medulloblastoma, including advancements that have bolstered patients’ immune systems in glioblastoma cases and new therapies permitting lower radiation dose for children with medulloblastoma.

One of the main objectives of the Novogen collaboration is to develop the Australian company’s drug candidate TRXE-009 – a potent anti-cancer molecule that has proven effective in lab tests and should be ready for clinical trials in 2016 – as a one-stop therapy for primary and secondary brain cancers in adults and children.

Researchers will also develop other Novogen drug candidates as “radio-sensitizers” to augment the effectiveness of radiation treatments, the Feinstein Center said.

Novogen, which bases its drug-development research on the organic compound benzopyran, was first listed on the Australian Securities Exchange in 1994 and has been dual-listed on Nasdaq since 1998. Its subsidiary, MEI Pharma, now controls all benzopyran-based IP, according to the company’s website.

In November 2012, Novogen acquired private Australian biotech firm Triaxial Pharmaceuticals for $1.88 billion. The new entity has since developed a new generation of benzyopyran drug candidates known as super-benzopyrans, including TRXE-009, which some healthcare experts are already hailing as a breakthrough treatment for melanoma and other cancers.

“We are confident that we have found the drug that can successfully treat cancers arising in the brain as well as cancers that spread to the brain from elsewhere,” Novogen CEO Dr. Graham Kelly said. “The ability of TRXE-009 to kill brain cancer stem-like cells gives us particular confidence that we can finally kill off the root cause of any cancer within the brain.”