At Israeli company Biokine Therapeutics, the focus from day one has been on finding drugs to fight cancer. Nine years on, the company believes it’s nearing its goal with a promising potential drug that can be adapted to treat a variety of different cancers, from leukemia, to myeloma, as well as inflammatory diseases.

Hundreds of thousands of people across the US fall victim to these diseases every year, and with baby boomers reaching a vulnerable age, the increase in incidence of myeloma and other cancer and inflammatory diseases is likely to rise.

Biokine’s novel molecular approach, which has already shown promising results in clinical trials, focuses on the role of chemokines in the development of cancer and inflammatory diseases.

Chemokines are crucial prompters in physiological processes. The bad news is that in error, they can set off pathological processes throughout the body.

“Chemokines are small proteins that alert immune (white) cells to come help when there is a problem in an area – an inflammation or a virus,” Dr. Orly Eizenberg, vice president, co-founder and head of R&D at Biokine, tells ISRAEL21c.

A mistake sends immune cells to the wrong location

“Receptors on these chemokines sniff out the need for help in a place where a stranger has invaded. Sometimes, however, they make a mistake, cause the immune cells to go to the wrong area, gather together for no reason or for the wrong reason, and even kill the wrong cells, the body’s good cells [causing an auto-immune disease],” says Eisenberg, an expert in cancer cells and molecular biology.

“Misreading a signal, they lead cancer cells from one area to another, causing metastasis, the spread of cancer,” she adds.

Rehovot based Biokine is focusing on BKT140, an antagonist that inhibits the activity of the chemokine receptor CXCR4 which is linked to cancer progression, explains Dr. Amnon Peled, co-founder and the CEO of Biokine.

Peled is an expert in the world. He also directs a laboratory at the Gene Therapy Institute at Hadassah Medical Center that focuses on the role of chemokines and chemokine receptor-based gene therapy for the treatment of cancer and immune diseases.

BKT140’s bio-chemical and biological activity is different from other compounds, explains Peled. “It binds a different portion of the chemokine receptor CXCR4,” he says.

In clinical trials involving myeloma and leukemia, Biokine’s drug pulls a double switch, not only causing cancer cells to die, but going directly to the stem cells in the bone marrow and inducing the production and release of normal immune cells. In this way, it also helps the body to recover after chemotherapy or radiation treatment.

Results look promising

So far, the approach has shown promising results in trials against cancer – particularly myeloma and leukemia, and also in treatment for inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, and autoimmune diseases including multiple sclerosis.

But Biokine isn’t putting all its eggs in one basket. The company has developed another platform, called Chemo-Hit, designed to look for promiscuous compounds to modify more than one chemokine activity.

“A pathological inflammatory condition is usually regulated by more than one chemokine,” explains Eizenberg. “Our idea is to have one drug that blocks all chemokines involved in a specific pathology. Targeting only one chemokine is not sufficient.”

The Chemo-Hit platform is already getting promising results. Pre-clinical trials indicate that Biokine’s compounds are effective in inhibiting chemokines that are involved in the progression of inflammatory diseases such as MS.

Biokine was founded at an incubator at the Weizmann Institute of Science in 2000, and sprung off on its own in 2004. This March, a grant from the Office of the Chief Scientist (OCS) for $1.2 million was used for Phase I/IIa clinical trials on patients with multiple myeloma in Sheba Medical Center.

So far, the company has raised about $5 million in financing from the OCS, Clal Biotechnology Industries, Hadasit, the Technology Transfer Company of Hadassah University Hospitals, and private investors. Research is also supported by two European programs.

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