OncoSec Could Revolutionize Oncology Therapy

The permeability of the cell plasma membrane can be increased through the application of an external electrical field. This technique, known as electroporation, has been used in research settings since the late 1970s to introduce molecules into cells. While it has the potential to be used for a variety of clinical applications, it is still something of a nascent technology in medicine.

February 28, 2012

4 Min Read
OncoSec Could Revolutionize Oncology Therapy

The permeability of a cell membrane can be dramatically enhanced by applying  an external electrical field. This technique, known as electroporation, has a history of being used in research settings to introduce molecules into cells. Clinical applications of the technology, however, have been limited until recently. But electroporation could be a disruptive force in oncology, where it can be used in conjunction with a drug or DNA-based biologic to decrease side effects of active therapeutic agents.

Electroporation technology can result in a 4000- or 10,000-fold increase in movement of an agent into cells. 

A company known as OncoSec Medical Inc. (San Diego, CA) is working to become a trailblazer in the domain of medical electroporation technology. The firm is using the technology to dramatically facilitate uptake of drugs or biologics into cells through an increase in permeability of the cell membrane. “The treatment approach is very potent,” says Punit Dhillon, cofounder, president, and CEO of the firm. “We can see a 4000- to 10,000-fold increase in the movement of the agent into the cell,” he says. Substantially increasing the cellular uptake of chosen therapeutic agents can minimize the dose required to destroy cancer cells and spare healthy tissues. In addition, by enhancing the delivery mechanism of treatment, the side effects of non-targeted cancer-treatment protocols such as traditional chemotherapy can be drastically reduced.

Dhillon was formerly the head of operations and finance for Inovio Pharmaceuticals (Blue Bell, PA), which had been investigating the use of electroporation for chemotherapy, immunotherapy, and DNA vaccine applications. Inovio decided to focus on the use of electroporation for DNA vaccines. OncoSec was spun out of Inovio to use the technology to target solid tumors. 

At present, OncoSec is working on three phase II clinical trials, which will use its patented “electroimmunotherapy” technology to deliver DNA-based interleukin-12 (DNA IL-12) to patients with metastatic melanoma, Merkel cell carcinoma, and cutaneous t-cell lymphoma. “Our focus is to continue our immunotherapy approach, which we feel is very elegant for delivering DNA IL-12 locally,” Dhillon says. “We are exploiting the local response, and then we are getting a global systemic response.

  • June 2011: Received $3 million

    “The key areas that we decided to focus on are very important. They are all lethal in cancer. Our flagship product is for metastatic melanoma. We are focused on stage 3 and stage 4 melanoma,” Dhillon says. Patients with this cancer have limited treatment options. “With these patients, we are now seeing an overall response rate of around 50%,” Dhillon continues. 

    The company is also investigating the use of electroporation to treat Merkel cell carcinoma and cutaneous T-cell lymphoma. “Those are also very rare skin cancers and they are very lethal for these patients,” Dhillon says. “All of these treatment options are very amenable to using the DNA IL-12 combined with electroporation approach that we are doing.” 

    The company recently dosed the first patient in its phase II clinical trial for metastatic melanoma. “We are working toward completing enrollment in [our three clinical] studies in the next 12 months, and then we will have data to share with a partner,” Dhillon says. “In addition, we are also going to use that data to advance [our] programs.”

    Avtar Dhillon, MD, chairman Punit Dhillon, president and CEO James M. DeMesa, MD, director Anthony E. Maida, III, PhD, director

    Oncosec Medical Inc. 4690 Executive Dr # 250 San Diego, CA 92121 | 858/558-8518www.oncosec.com

    OncoSec's technology was recently featured in a news broadcast by KIRO7:

    —Brian Buntz  

    Brian is the editor-at-large at UBM Canon's medical group. Follow him on Twitter at @brian_buntz.

Sign up for the QMED & MD+DI Daily newsletter.

You May Also Like