The University of Liège has presented TARGETOME, the most recent of its spin-offs, which is also the first to spring from its applied geno-proteomics centre, GIGA. Based on research carried out by the GIGA-Cancer metastasis research laboratory, led by Professor Vincent Castronovo, the Targetome business company is marketing a new technique used to identify biomarkers which are specifically over-expressed in certain cancers and cancerous metastases. This new technique for identifying cancer biomarkers, which has been patented by Professor Castronovo, is the first stage in the development of a new type of diagnosis methodologies and anti-cancer therapies, enabling early detection, efficient localization through imaging of malign lesions and their selective destruction.
'With the discovery of these important specific biomarkers, medicine will in time be able to foresee waging a targeted and personalised 'clean war' against cancer and particularly against its disseminated form: meastases,' declares Professor Vincent Castronovo. 'New perspectives are opening up concerning patient diagnosis and therapy. We are moving towards selective immunotargeting treatments which will have the advantage of sparing the healthy tissues in order to focus on the cancerous cells.'
AROUND FIFTY BIOMARKERS IDENTIFIED
The originality of the technique developed by Professor Castronovo (In-vitro method for screening accessible biological markers in pathologic tissues) lies in the fact that, contrary to previous techniques, it enables the identification of biomarkers (targets) which have three essential qualities for any high value added target: they are in abundant in the cancer lesions, they are specific and above all they are accessible, which means reachable by high affinity ligands such as antibodies. This approach is unique as it identifies potential therapeutic targets through the same path that will in the end be used for the administration of the targeted therapy, in other words the bloodstream pathway.
The availibility at the Liège University Hospital Center of a unique human tissue Biobank and the know-how of Professor Edwin de Pauw's (ULg) mass spectrometry department in the area of proteins identification have widely contributed to the efficiency and the speed with which this new biomarker identification technique has been developed.
This technique which has been patented by ULg has already enabled the identification, and in part the validation, of some fifty biomarkers which are over-expressed in six types of cancer: breast cancer, Hodgkin's lymphoma (a cancer of lymphoid tissues), glioblastoma (cancer of the brain), bone metastases, hepatic metastases (liver) and cancer of the pancreas.
These biomarkers constitute targets for new immunotargeting programmes through the means of monoclonal antibodies adapted either for imaging (the antibodies marked by a radioactive isotope will serve as tracers and will allow the diagnosis to be refined with an unparalleled precision), or adapted for a targeted therapy (antibodies will thus be constructed to deliver anti-cancerous substances exclusively to the sick cells).
'The imaging tracers and the antibodies for a targeted therapy which are developed on the basis of Targetome biomarkers represent a revolution in oncology: offering a genuine personalised therapy which will concentrate by a factor of 100 the toxic agent only within the patient's cancerous cells!'' underlines Professor Castronovo.
IN DEVELOPMENT WITH THE PHARMACEUTICAL INDUSTRY
Targetome is positioning itself as a biotechnology R&D business company. Given the enormous development costs involved (above all because of the clinical trials to be carried out), Targetome's strategy aims at granting licenses to pharmaceutical companies for validated and patented targets.
For the most promising biomarkers, Targetome will take things in hand as far as the production of the monoclonal antibodies necessary for preclinical trials (in vitro and on mice). These monoclonal antibodies will be developed jointly with ProGenosis, another ULg spin-off housed at the GIGA, and the Marloie Accredited Rural Economy Centre. The validated monoclonal antibodies will be patented and licensed to pharmaceutical companies at a higher cost than would be the case for just the biomarkers. 'At the initial stage, Targetome will base its development on biomarkers specific to hepatic metastases and cancer of the pancreas,' points out Professor Castronovo.
For the moment Targetome is capitalised at the legal minimum of €62.500 by Gesval and the business company promoters. The capital will soon be raised to €300,000 through the involvement of Spinventure and private investors.
Targetome is taking part in the Radiotarget project, co-ordinated by the Walloon competitiveness cluster Biowin. The objective is to develop a Rhenium-188 production apparatus to mark therapeutic antibodies for new targets validated by Targetome in the treatment of hepatic metastases.