Ziopharm Struggles to Keep their Cancer Gene Therapies Competitive in the Biotech Market

For years, Ziopharm Oncology had been developing gene therapies aiming to strengthen the immune system that will ultimately help kill tumor cancer cells.  Oncosec Medical, its underdog rival also develops a similar drug. Judging the results of their clinical data Oncosec has a more promising result.  The current value of Ziopharm is around $800 million dollar as compared with Oncosec which has an enterprise value of negative $2 million.

Ziopharm has been known to develop other anti-cancer therapy using engineered T-cells. But the problem is that it cannot keep up with its competitors such as Juno Therapeutics, Kite Pharma and Novartis. Unlike Ziopharm, these companies are on its way to get a regulatory approval and it is believed that they will reach their target market ahead of Ziopharm.

The Connection Between of Ziopharm and Intrexon: Favorable or Not?

Ziopharm is able to maintain its operation because Intrexon has been a dependable ally.  Intrexon is a synthetic biology company owned by RJ Kirk, a health-care billionaire. The company finance Ziopharm financial and scientific projects.

Intrexon helps Ziopharm get financing and investors. The company practically runs because of Intrexon’s support. Kirk is Ziopharm’s major investor. In fact, even the interleukin-12 gene therapy technology was licensed by Intrexon.

Thanks to Kirk, Ziopharm manage to maintain its $800 million dollar value in the stock market. Kirk manages to let investors believe that there is need to use synthetic biology in designing new drugs to fight cancer.

But despite the strong connection with Intrexon, Ziopharm still struggles to keep up with its smaller competitor Oncosec. Reviewing the clinical data presented by the two companies, Oncosec proves to have a more promising clinical finding.

Ad-RTS-hiL-12 Anti-cancer Gene Therapy:  Where it is heading to?

Ad-RTS-hiL-12 is the highlight of Ziopharm’s anti-cancer gene therapy. It uses the DNA of the virus to express interleukin 12 – a protein known to activate the immune system through the help of T-cells. The virus is injected to the tumor cells to kill the cancer cells.

The interleukin 12 production is controlled by an oral drug called Veledimex. This drug helps limits the detrimental effect of IL-12 as it works in killing the cancer cells.

This lethal combination is particularly useful for patients suffering from Melanoma, a type of skin cancer. Melanoma is said to be responsive to immune-stimulating drugs.  Intrexon was the one who first focused on how Ad-RTS-hiL 12 and Veledimex works.  After the successful clinical trial results, Ziopharm took over and got the license from Intrexon in 2011.

But in a cancer immunotherapy conference held in New York City, Ziopharm presented a conflicting result of their clinical study. Although, they claim that this drug combination is indeed effective in killing tumor cells, their results shows contradictory findings. Among the 26 enrolled Melanoma patients who were treated, seven were omitted from the efficacy analysis.

On the remaining 19 patients, only 2 had partial response from Ad-RTS-hiL 12 and Veledimex. The partial response rate was only 10%, and it can be lowered to 8% if the results of the seven patients were added. Because of these findings, Intrexon and Ziopharm decided to discontinue using this treatment with patients having Melanoma.

Instead, they decided to use it in treating glioblastoma (a type of brain cancer) and also breast cancer.

On the other hand, Oncosec decided to use short pulses of electric current using a small needle to get through the cancer cells instead of using a pill.  The study showed favorable results as they were able to stimulate the production of Interleukin 12.

Compared with their competitors, Ziopharm is far behind in producing promising drug combination therapies. While some of their competitors are already in their final stages of testing, Ziopharm is still struggling to find an encouraging clinical results.  The company manages to keep their position in the market simply because of the support of Intrexon.

Fighting Deadly Cancer Cells

The battle against cancer holds a promising result considering that biotechnology companies are now utilizing molecular and targeted-gene therapy in killing cancer cells.  The real challenge now, is how these companies can sustain their funding considering that clinical trials needs an enormous amount of money.

They also need to conduct long-term studies to prove the validity of the results.  Looking for potential patients that will meet the criteria is another challenge. The biotechnology is an expensive and time-consuming business but when companies are able to find a promising cure the return of investments can be massive.

Ziopharms depicts a picture of a company struggling to find a cure but they are not immune from the old Big Pharma system.

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