LAWRENCE – A University of Kansas startup company has begun producing a new drug delivery technology that could make cancer treatments safer and more effective.
HylaPharm, a drug delivery company founded in 2010 by a team of KU faculty, is now producing its patented HylaPlat technology, which delivers chemotherapy drugs directly to cancer cells in tumors and nearby lymph nodes while limiting drug exposure in kidneys, nerves and auditory organs. By limiting exposure in these surrounding areas, HylaPlat enables targeted treatments with fewer side effects for patients.
“For most drugs, there’s a trade-off between side effects and efficacy,” said Dr. Daniel Aires, HylaPharm president and CEO and KU Medical Center director of dermatology. “But for patients with certain kinds of cancer, our new technology has the potential to be both safer and stronger. That makes it especially exciting.”
HylaPharm is led by Aires and KU pharmaceutical chemist Laird Forrest, who serves as chief science officer and chief operating officer. The company is located in the Bioscience and Technology Business Center Expansion Facility and in January was awarded a $200,000 development grant by the Kansas Bioscience Authority for upcoming animal trials.
HylaPlat may have extra advantages for treating cancers that metastasize through lymph nodes. This category includes 85 percent of cancers, including breast, colon, lung and ovarian cancer. Current treatments for cancers that have gone to lymph nodes include surgery and radiation, which can cause tremendous damage and often fail to remove all the cancer. Meanwhile, standard intravenous chemotherapy does not get into lymph nodes at high levels, resulting in greater risk of relapse.
HylaPlat addresses this issue by attaching chemotherapy drugs to nano-sized particles of hyaluronan, a natural polymer found in the body. Once injected near the tumor site, these nanoparticles will attack the tumor and then spread to the lymph nodes, reaching areas where local metastatic disease can hide. The size of the drug is ideal for getting into and then staying in the nearby lymph nodes, said Forrest, an assistant professor of pharmaceutical chemistry in the KU School of Pharmacy.
“Injecting it directly into the main cancer lesion results in a very high drug level compared to normal injections into the veins,” Aires said. “Furthermore, most cancer cells have a receptor on their surface that grabs onto hyaluronan. In general, more aggressive cancers and the hard-to-treat cancer stem cells have more of these receptors. This is another factor that can help target the drug to cancer cells.”
So far, HylaPlat has proven effective in animal models, and larger animal trials for submission to the Federal Drug Administration are under way. The company will pursue the next step, a Phase I human trial, after discussions with the FDA, possibly within two years.
HylaPharm is one of 24 active KU startup companies.
“HylaPlat was invented, patented and developed at KU,” Forrest said. “It reflects the outstanding science that is supported and conducted at this university.”