Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Mucus Producing Proteins: The Key to Curing Cancer? Minerva Biotech Bets on It.

Over the past fours years, I have done research on designing nanotechnology based drug delivery systems to target and kill cancer cells.  I have decided to target a particular protein that it over-expressed on many cancer cells.  While there are thousands of labs targeting receptors like epithelial growth factor receptor (EGFR) and vascular endothelial growth factor receptor (VEFGR), which control growth and blood vasculature. I went another direction and targeted mucus producing proteins called mucin, specifically MUC-1.  One study I read stated that over 90% of late stage ovarian cancer cells over-expressed the mucin receptor.  Another stated that nearly 75% of epithelial cancers over-express mucin proteins.  What does a mucus producing protein have to do with cancer? And why aren't more companies interested in exploiting mucins?

Studies have discerned functions of the mucin proteins ranging from controlling the environment surrounding the cells, preventing drugs from entering the cells, participating in metastasis and growth, intracellular signalling, and recent studies showed that it may interact with EGFR.  All these steps are important to the initiation, growth, and metastasis of cancer.  Mucin appears to be the untapped gold mine for cancer research.  I believe that many big pharma companies are working on mucins but not substantially investing in it because of the relative recent studies.  They're probably waiting for more research to come out before pouring money into projects.  Of course investing millions of dollars into research of mucins is filled with risk, but the reward is immense. It is also noteworthy that the current accepted test for monitoring ovarian cancer is the CA-125, which is a mucin protein.

There is a private biotech company in Waltham, MA named Minerva Biotechnologies.  They have produced some amazing results concerning the functions of mucins and how to exploit them for treating cancers.  They discovered that the mucin proteins are not only overexpressed on cancer cells, they are expressed as a different form.  The scientists at Minerva discovered that in cancer cells, a large chunk of the mucin protein breaks off and thus initiates the processes involved in cancer progression.  While there are a lot of academic researchers targeting mucins, based on Minerva's findings, they are targeting the chunk of the receptor that breaks off.  This broken off piece does play a role in cancer, acting like a ligand and activating the mucin receptor.  Minerva has worked on targeting the piece of the receptor that remains on the cell, the piece on the outside is about 45 amino acids in length.

Minerva Biotechnologies is perhaps the leader of targeting mucin receptors and has the possibility of changing the landscape in cancer treatment.  Investors cannot benefit form the results because Minerva Biotech is currently a private company.  I will be very interested when Minerva IPO is available and believe that investors will greatly benefit by investing into the company.       

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