Cure for cancer likely just five to seven years away: AUT prof

Kode founder & chief executive Prof Steve Henry

Steve Henry on a New Zealand-developed technology that's helping to cure cancer

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A New Zealand-developed medical technology that could help cure cancer has made a breakthrough in the US.

Kode Technology, founded by its chief executive, AUT engineering professor Steve Henry, has become the first company in Australasia to secure a spot in the world-leading Johnson & Johnson Innovation's "JLABS" facility in Houston – a giant research centre run by the pharmaceutical multinational to foster innovation.

Kode Technology, which was developed by Prof Henry, is not a drug or a cure in itself. Rather, it's a "platform" that can be licensed by biotech and pharma companies, which in turn use it to develop new therapies.

Prof Henry has already signed a number of licensees including UK biopharmaceutical outfit Agalimmune, in a deal worth up to $US31 million in milestones and upfront payments, with royalty payments on top.

The largest shareholders in Kode are Prof Henry and Kode chairman and venture capital investor David Ross (who jointly hold around 25% of the company), a holding company whose backers include Mr Ross, NBR Rich Lister Sir David Levene and others (13.44%), former Zespri executive director Eric Henry (11.83%) and AUT (5.38%).

Prof Henry says at this point an IPO is not on Kode's radar. The company is likely to pursue another round of private equity funding shortly.

How it works
On a very broad strokes level (see video explainer below), cells connect to each other using different shapes. The technology developed by Prof Henry at AUT can "paint" over these shapes and make cells act differently.

The most high-profile use of the technology is in a cancer therapy AGI-134 – a molecule developed by Kode – which changes the appearance of cancer cells, making them take on the appearance of an animal cell, which the immune system already knows how to reject. This kills the cancer that was injected but more importantly teaches a body how to find and kill any other tumours.

"We at Kode invented the molecule AGI-134, which is the active component in this therapeutic," Prof Henry says. "However, Agalimmune in the UK discovered the ability to use that molecule to actually treat cancer."

Cure for cancer five to seven years away
"l believe that in five to seven years, almost all cancers will be able to be cured," Prof Henry says.

"There are many immunotherapies that are fairly well-developed within this sector. It's not just us. There's a lot that's been learned very recently; a lot of exciting stuff. Hopefully, we will be a major contributor."

He puts the odds of a cancer breakthrough in the next five to seven years at "greater than 50%".

"Most people aren't aware that a cure for cancer is so close," he adds.

"So much is now known about it, the immunology of it. It's just a natural progression.

"There may be some surprises but the walls are starting to come down."

Human trials next year
Long-time medical observers will be a little wary. Cancer has been cured thousands of times in rats, only for therapies to fail when faced with tumours in humans, which are more complex.

Prof Henry says Agalimmune has completed toxicity and animal testing on AGI-134. He expects human trials to start in the first half of next year.

Initially, Agalimmune will target its therapy at melanomas but Prof Henry says in theory it could be used to treat all cancers.

He says by June/July next year, the first human trial data should be available and there will be the first indication of whether AGI-134 will work on its own, or will have to be deployed in combination with other therapies. It could be that it amplifies checkpoint inhibitors.

Long term, the academic entrepreneur sees a wide range of applications for molecules developed by Kode, including biotech bandages that help wounds heal more quickly.

Bigger than Texas
The academic entrepreneur says securing a spot at JLABS will allow for further uses of Kode Technology to accelerate, Prof Henry says.

“This marks the expansion of our business through our first international subsidiary. Over the first year our priority is to build up our presence in the US and ensure that people know the incredible possibilities our platform provides. One of the great things about Kode is we are a technology that a variety of different industries can use. We don’t make the products – but we license the technology to others to create things that will change people’s lives.”

To secure a spot at JLABS, Kode Biotech had to prove it had a compelling and credible technology, addressed an area of significant unmet medical or market need, and has a strong team and financial record.

Kode Biotech’s operations are located at Johnson & Johnson Innovation, JLABS at the Texas Medical Center, which services about eight million patients a year.  

JLABS is a 3159sq m life science innovation centre, located in Houston, TX. The labs provide a flexible environment for start-up companies pursuing new technologies and research platforms to advance medical care. Through a "no strings attached" model, JJI does not take an equity stake in the companies occupying JLABS and the companies are free to develop products – either on their own or by initiating a separate external partnership with JJI or any other company.

“For us to be selected by JLABS, gives enormous credibility to the potential of our technology. It shows that New Zealand companies can leverage themselves to the world. Most people think you have to leave New Zealand to be successful. We are proof you can do it with a foot still in New Zealand,” Prof Henry says.

Much of Kode Biotech’s core biological research is undertaken by AUT students and postdoctoral researchers at its city campus. In time, it is anticipated that AUT students will also be able to work from JLABS on US collaborative research projects.

Professor Enrico Haemmerle, the dean of engineering and director of AUT’s Centre for Kode Technology Innovation (KTI), says it’s very rewarding to see that a technology created by an AUT professor is getting the attention of such a major player.

“AUT has for a long time recognised the potential of this extraordinary technology, so we are thrilled to see that it is now catching the attention of people on the other side of the world. This opportunity is huge for our academics and students. It means that they can conduct research on the other side of the world with state-of-the-art equipment and with some of the best minds in medicine and technology. Their research is valuable and has impact. The ability to access federal research funding in the US will allow this technology to expand beyond even what we think is possible and hopefully continue to change people’s lives for the better. I couldn’t be more proud of Steve and this major achievement.”


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16 Comments & Questions

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So let us say cancer can be cured (remember we've all heard claims of almost finding a cure before), and as a result people live even longer in the later years, what strain does this put on resources getting more stretched every day through over population in the wrong continents?

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Wow. I think anyone who has (or has had) cancer or knows people that do would be quite happy that they or their loved ones might actually stay alive. And I think their combined ongoing benefit to their families, communities and workplaces might cancel out arguments like that, rather than thinking of them being a drain on the economy for staying around. No one ever wants to get cancer, but hopefully everyone has a chance to get to their old age - or are pensioners a drain on society too?

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Your right. If you get cancer I assume you'll decline treatment. Its high time the sick just died when they ought to. In fact lets have no child birthing in hospitals, if a few die that will lessen the burden on the rest

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That's about as likely as an NBR-reading "capitalist" declining the socialism of the Pension, I'd imagine.

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Quite right. I demand all research into finding a cure for cancer should cease immediately.

We should stop all medial research and close all the hospitals too.

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Any human life is a net positive to society you bozo.

You've fallen into the death culture trap fostered by the State-run healthcare system and all the disgusting inhuman statistical analyses and broken thinking surrounding that bizarre way of thinking about people. Like putting the environment ahead of humanity.

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Health care is a major cost to taxpayers and cancer care accounts for a substantial part of the health budget, buffoon !

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The more I research ways to stretch our planet's resources, and ways to better living conditions on the planet, the more I am inclined to steer away from animal products in their entirety. I don't believe the solution to stretching resources is to refrain from helping everyone live to a healthy long age; I believe the solution is to find a way for everyone to live to that healthy long age, while protecting our planet. The food waste in the United States is deplorable. The consumption in the US is deplorable. If there were incentives for the world's population, where possible, to consume a diet centered around plants, resources would stretch more than most can imagine. An added benefit: the population would be healthier as a whole and medical costs would plummet. Unfortunately, that requires a commitment to changing one's lifestyle drastically; most would be unwilling to do so until met with immediate consequences.

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Wouldn't this be a miracle if it were to become true.
Even if a total cure wasn't found i would settle
If those diagnosed with cancer could live with it leading a near normal life and without the pain, sickness and premature early suffering and deaths associated with cancer.

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"Are pensioners a drain on society too"? "

Yes. If they aren't fully funding their retirement they are.

Eventually if you live long enough you will get a cancer or terminal illness, that cancer hasn't killed you it is long life that has. My nan for example we were told died of bowel cancer at 95. No she didn't, she died of being 95. I am happy she died at 95 and didn't live another 10 years as might have been possible for a cure to her cancer.

Let us debate if there is a cure for cancer but it costs a fortune. Who gets the cure and why? Society will not progress keeping the elderly alive non-productive years at great costs or those who do not contribute financially and nor will it messing with natural mortality rates currently.

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Your humanity and love for mankind is truly inspirational.

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Resources required due to a cure can be financed, nothing can compensate for the pain and suffering experienced by those beset by this gastly killer or their helpless lover ones looking on in dispair, I recall the suffering of childeren like Chase Topperwein and wish the medical establishment god's speed in finding this cure.

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With all due respects to Prof. Henry, who is a bioengineering expert let's leave any claims about cancer being cured within the next five to seven years up to the world's leading and pure cancer biologists/ researchers. And at the moment they aren't saying that.

Treatments are however improving, cure rates are improving, the life expectancy of people living with cancer is improving and the recent introduction of cancer immunotherapy has certainly brought about a paradigm shift in the treatment of cancer as well as significant advances in cure rates and in the life expectancy of cancer patients. And while these new treatments are curing a percentage of people who otherwise would have died from their cancer, the majority of cancer patients however still derive little to no benefit from them and will go on to die from their disease.

So let's not put the cart before the horse, shall we? While the above is an excellent development, the lab, and in silico platforms are a vastly simplified model for the complexity that is human biology and how cancers develop, grow and interact with it. There will be many surprises and false trails ahead.

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This would not be the first time we've heard such suggestions.

Personally, I'd take this with a grain of salt, like hearing "just elect us for one more term and we'll take action on the housing crisis, honest".

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I for one hope it's true. I wouldn't wish terminal cancer on my worst enemy. Watching a loved one die slowly from cancer is one of the most horrible things to witness.

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The more I research ways to stretch our planet's resources, and ways to better living conditions on the planet, the more I am inclined to steer away from animal products in their entirety. I don't believe the solution to stretching resources is to refrain from helping everyone live to a healthy long age; I believe the solution is to find a way for everyone to live to that healthy long age, while protecting our planet. The food waste in the United States is deplorable. Wouldn't this be a miracle if it were to become true.Even if a total cure wasn't found i would settle If those diagnosed with cancer could live with it leading a near normal life and without the pain, sickness and premature early suffering and deaths <a href="http://onedaytop.com/weight-gain-may-causes-heart-failure/"> associated with cancer. </a>

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