In Nice, Dr. Pagès and his team created a drug to make “the disease curable”

A drug to treat metastatic kidney cancer, still incurable? This idea was born in 2008 “on the edge of the bench” by Dr. Gilles Pagès, now director of research at the National Institute of Health and Medical Research (Inserm) first class and team leader within of the Cancer and Aging Institute (Ircan) in Nice. And it is to go to the end of this project that he will receive, this Friday, the prize of the fund Amgen France for the Science and the Human, selected among 90 candidacies. Dr. Pagès returns with 20 minutes about the tremendous advances he has made with his team, doctors and chemists, about optimizing kidney cancer treatment, and even others.

What treatments are available today for metastatic kidney cancer?

Prior to 2008, a patient’s life expectancy was three months. Little by little, we managed to reach an average of three years. We have gained years and quality of life. First, thanks to a drug that targeted the VEGF component, which makes blood vessels. It was first imagined for colon cancer, then for lung cancer, breast cancer, and finally for kidney cancer. It was a revolutionary treatment because it extended life expectancy. But doctors realized that it was not effective for all patients, sometimes it even had the opposite effect. Then there was immunotherapy, which also delayed the fatal outcome, but only in 20% of patients. In fact, there are as many tumors as there are patients.

Why is kidney cancer so difficult to treat?

It should be noted that kidney cancer is the cancer that has had the most drugs developed in recent years. In fifteen years, there has been almost one approved treatment per year for this disease. This is a very active field because the disease is associated with particular mutations. For example, VEGF protein, use hypoxia to develop. It then makes blood vessels to feed the cancerous tumor with nutrients and oxygen.

After fifteen years of research on the subject, where are you?

After all these years of research, patent filings, strong collaborations, especially with the Institute of Chemistry in Nice, we have developed a molecule to create a new drug. This molecule is redundant with that which targets the VEGF protein and inhibits tumor growth. It is so effective for models of tumors that are insensitive to immunotherapy [qui vise à induire ou amplifier la réponse immunitaire anticancéreuse]. Our treatment, combined with those that already exist, will hopefully make this disease a curable disease. But just being able to make it a chronic disease and allow patients to live is a huge pride.

Can this molecule be used for other cancers?

Part of the Lacassagne Center, which is a reference in Europe for the treatment of certain types of cancer, in a way discovered that our molecules could be effective for other diseases. Notably on uveal melanoma, which develops in the eye and is very aggressive. The 30% of patients who escape radiation therapy can live with the drug we created. It is also possible for cancers of the ENT sphere.

From when can this medicine be used?

Pour le proces aille plus vite, he decided to create his own new company, Roca Therapeutics, in April 2021, which found all the possible prices and funding for the academy and is a laureate of the i-Lab. . We are currently in the phase of regulatory toxicology, which will be finalized by the end of 2022 or even early 2023. Then the treatment must be submitted to the health authorities of the European Medicines Agency, with a first clinical trial in 2023. Depending on the validation, without toxicity in a patient, on the transition to phase 2 with more patients after phase 3 and the blind test. For CV, it’s tomorrow! (laughs)

What will the Amgen France fund bring you?

This is already the recognition of our peers because there were doctors and researchers on the jury. It is very important to see that our work has been dubbed by these professionals. But it is also important to be recognized by the pharmaceutical industry, without which it is impossible to conduct clinical trials. From a financial point of view, this was crucial because it is difficult to obtain research funding today. We must knock on all doors to prevent all these years of work for this program from ending now.

How did your program stand out?

If this award has been postponed, among more than 90 nominations, it is also thanks to our originality to offer a personalized treatment according to the patient. In a new one there were often molecular diagnoses. And then we tested and compared our molecules with developed compounds that had already come out, especially at GSK. We were able to patent because ours was better. It is the result of an adventure sometimes punctuated by failures, but by a partnership between researchers, doctors and chemists. And this virtuous circle may bring the stone to the building to treat kidney cancer. Again, this is a great pride.

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