Pharmaceuticals giant Pfizer Inc. signaled earlier this month that it will begin aggressively pursuing development of gene therapies — a strategic shift that could ultimately benefit mesothelioma patients.
While Pfizer’s gene therapy research-and-development plans don’t specifically include mesothelioma, they nonetheless set the stage for a big influx of dollars to laboratories engaged in molecular science.
As has been shown time and again, a gene therapy advance made on one disease front can open the door to advances on other disease fronts – which is reason for mesothelioma patients to cheer this news.
For example, if a Pfizer-funded lab investigating gene based treatment of hemophilia has a breakthrough, the underlying science may prove translatable to work other researchers in the same lab are conducting on mesothelioma.
A Boost for Mesothelioma Gene Therapy Research
Pfizer’s move into gene therapy begins with $20 million in seed money to a U.S. biotech firm that is developing a molecularly targeted treatment for hemophilia. That money represents almost a 10 percent down payment toward successful development of the hemophilia treatment.
Every time the biotech firm hits a development success milestone with the treatment, Pfizer will cut a check to fund the next phase of research. In all, Pfizer is prepared to give the firm $260 million.
The biotech firm gets that full amount just for taking the treatment through to Phase II testing. Pfizer will spend tens or hundreds of millions more on its own Phase III testing, regulatory agency approvals and market rollout.
So this one project will result in an enormous amount of gene therapy research that could prove invaluable to fellow researchers working on molecularly targeted mesothelioma treatments.
The Promise of Mesothelioma Gene Therapy
Gene therapy for mesothelioma and other diseases holds much promise. But there are many hurdles researchers must overcome in order to successfully develop this type of treatment.
That’s why huge infusions of research money from companies like Pfizer are so important. Other giants investing big in gene therapy include Bayer AG, Novartis AG and Sanofi SA.
Not only do those companies’ dollars support more and better research, they also serve to reassure researchers that they are on the right track.
Because huge corporations wouldn’t invest so much money into these projects unless they believed there is a substantial financial reward awaiting them at the end of it all.
How Mesothelioma Gene Therapy Works
Rochester, Minnesota’s Mayo Clinic — a significant center of mesothelioma research — explains that gene therapy is intended to either attack disease directly or boost the body’s natural ability to fight it.
The therapy works by either repairing or altogether replacing mutated genes. Or by making it easier for the body’s immune system to spot disease and launch an attack, Mayo Clinic says.
The main problem with gene therapy is that it’s usually delivered by lab-modified viruses.
Researchers find that viruses are able to grab onto targeted cells — mesothelioma cells, for instance — and can easily upload genetic material into those targets.
However, using viruses as the delivery vehicle sometimes produces very bad side effects, or they can attack and damage innocent, healthy cells.
Researchers are studying how to avoid these problems. The support of major pharmaceutical companies could prove very valuable in finding solutions and making gene therapy vastly better than it already is.