Wiseman Khuzwayo

A COMPANY in the JSE-listed Sekunjalo Investments stable has teamed up with a US-based biopharmaceutical company to develop ground-breaking therapeutic vaccines for cancer in South Africa.

Genius Biotherapeutics, formerly known as Bioclones, announced yesterday a strategic alliance with New York-listed Hemispherx Biopharma, which is engaged in the manufacture and clinical development of new drugs for treatment of viral and immune-based disorders.

Genius said the research project, which was being tested and developed in collaboration with UCT, would revolutionise cancer treatment.

Khalid Abdulla, the chief executive of Sekunjalo, said he could not put monetary terms on the partnership, adding: “How do you put financial terms on saving lives?”

A team of researchers at UCT has been working with Genius on developing a dendritic cell vaccine against breast cancer, which is a departure from the traditional chemotherapy approach.

This process enhances the patient’s own system to eradicate cancer without the use of toxic molecules.

Genius said: “Dendritic cells are specialised cells that are harvested from the patient’s blood samples.

“They are grown in a sterile lab and are ‘pulsed’ by a specially designed molecule called Ampligen while exposed to the cancer cell.”

The matured dendritic cells were able to recognise and specifically target cancer cells while ignoring healthy cells. This was a more effective treatment with fewer side effects and was therefore safer than traditional chemotherapy.

The therapy is known as Dendrovac technology.

Genius said it and Hemispherx had recently concluded a strategic agreement for the supply of Ampligen, a biological ingredient required for the priming of dendritic cells that the latter manufactured.

It said the vaccine was in pre-clinical studies leading to a phase 1 clinical trial.

Genius said: “Similar programmes were successfully developed in the US and Hemispherx has currently existing immmunotherapy studies at the University of Pittsburgh’s Comprehensive Cancer Centre and the Georgia Regents Research Institute.”

It said this collaboration was designed to enlarge and enhance the potential clinical results with the US-based programmes.

Genius conducted extensive research with the possibility of using dendritic cells, stimulated with its patented formula to overcome cancers and infectious diseases.

Genius chief executive Ismet Amod said: “We and UCT’s research team are very excited about securing Ampligen from Hemispherx for the clinical work on the dendritic cell vaccine technology, which is an essential component in our novel treatment to fight cancer.”

The research is funded partly by the National Research Foundation.

Sekunjalo Investments rose 1.39 percent to close at 73c.