Pills containing compounds from the cannabis plant could be used to treat tumours.
Biopharmaceutical company Oxford Cannabinoid Technologies (OCT), which has been exploring the potential of cannabinoids in medicine since 2017, has announced it is expanding its research into oncology.
It comes after a breakthrough by the business identified “a potential ‘first in class’ immunotherapy agent for the treatment of solid tumours”.
Immunotherapy uses patients’ immune systems to fight cancer and is currently administered via a drip, as tablets, or as a topical medication on the skin.
OCT chief executive Clarissa Sowemimo-Coker told the PA news agency: “When you’ve got a tumour growing in your system, it works to switch off your normal immunotherapy response, so your cells are not fighting it in the way they should.
“This compound – based on the initial data that we’ve analysed and very early experiments that we’ve done – works to switch back on the person’s own immune system and you start fighting that that growth yourself.”
So far in 2023, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) has approved a number of immunotherapies to treat certain cervical, lung and blood cancers, all of which are administered via an IV drip.
Ms Sowemimo-Coker hopes OCT’s oral medicine will be “much, much more cost-effective from a healthcare provider point of view, and also much more convenient from a patient perspective”.
She added that the cost-effectiveness of the drug is “difficult to quantify at the moment”, given the early stages of the research.
“If you’re just doing a very general comparison, a patient at home taking a tablet versus a patient coming to a clinic and having an IV administered over a period of time, you can do the math on the cost-saving and the time-saving for not just the NHS or the healthcare provider, but for the patient as well.”
OCT used its 500-strong library of proprietary compounds, more than 300 of which are exclusively licensed from US corporation Canopy Growth, and screened them with support from research partner Dalriada.
The breakthrough was made during early experiments which tested the compound both in vitro and in vivo, with data suggesting its in-vitro potency and selectivity to target, as well as its in-vivo availability in blood, shows excellent drug-like potential.
More experiments are set to take place, with OCT hoping to reach lead candidate stage by 2024.
“We obviously just want to progress it as soon as we can,” Ms Sowemimo-Coker said.
“The challenge with the drug discovery world is that it always takes longer than you expect and you have to go through all of those pre-clinical steps before, quite rightly, the regulator will agree to let you test something on human beings.
“So we are at the beginning of the journey, but we are confident and excited about it.”
She also said OCT is aiming to “demystify” cannabis and cannabinoids in medicine.
“I think that for a long time there has been a stigma around cannabis and cannabinoids,” she added.
“I think what we’re doing a bit differently here at OCT, and what is actually part of our core values, is to demystify and really bring legitimacy to the cannabinoid molecules and the potential that we believe they’ve got for therapeutic benefits for humankind.
“Because of the stigma, and because of the classification under the Misuse of Drugs Act, there hasn’t been the research done on these molecules over the last 20, 30, 40 years that has been done on other new chemical entities.
“We think there’s a huge amount of potential there. And I think people are beginning to understand that we might have missed a bit of a trick here.”
Research into the new compound for solid tumours is just one of four projects OCT is currently working on.
The most advanced is a new chemical entity that binds the cannabinoid receptor and could be given to cancer patients in tablet form to target chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN), a painful side-effect of chemotherapy.
Ms Sowemimo-Coker said human trials on healthy volunteers will start “very soon” and data is expected to be available before the end of the year.
Elsewhere, the company is working on an inhaler that combines THC and CBD to treat a condition known as trigeminal neuralgia, which can result in sudden, severe facial pain.
It is also exploring another derivative from its cannabinoid library, targeting “an undisclosed neuropathic pain condition”.
Published: by Radio NewsHub