Dr. Steven Quay, CEO of Atossa Genetics and a board-certified Anatomic Pathologist, discusses Atossa’s promising candidate in the fight against breast cancer.
Queen Atossa of Persia was arguably one of the most influential women in the ancient world. Wife to Darius the Great, mother to Xerxes I, Atossa held tremendous influence during her life 550-445 B.C.E. Queen Atossa is also the first woman in recorded history to suffer from breast cancer which, according to the Greek historian Herodotus, was excised by a slave.
Today, approximately one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer during their lifetime, making breast cancer the second leading cause of cancer death in American women. Currently, the best available treatment is surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy, colloquially referred to as, “cut, burn, and poison”. These remedies are the very best modern medicine has to offer, but the treatment and corresponding side effects can be brutal.
But what if breast cancer could be prevented altogether? And what if current breast cancer survivors could keep their cancer in remission by using a prophylactic treatment? Those are the very same questions Dr. Quay asked when he formed Atossa Genetics.
Atossa’s dual mission is to prevent breast cancer from developing in new patients, and to prevent reoccurrence of breast cancer in survivors. Those objectives make Atossa a standout in the biotech world. Most companies are focused on finding a cure for cancer, but Atossa wants to prevent it from occurring in the first place.
Currently, the most widely used drug in treating breast cancer is called tamoxifen. It’s been around for over 30 years and it’s proven to be extremely effective in treating breast cancer. The problem is that tamoxifen is administered orally, so it’s absorbed in the blood stream and processed systemically. As a result, the drug has some very serious side effects including pulmonary embolisms, stroke, blood clots in the lungs, cataracts, and uterine cancer.
Atossa is developing a drug called endoxifen, which is derived from the lead compound in tamoxifen (the eponymously named endoxifen). The topical formulation of endoxifen can be administered directly to the breast, unlike an oral drug that goes into the blood stream. The breast skin is loaded with receptors that allow the medication to be absorbed.
The theory is that women who are at risk of developing estrogen-based breast cancer, can administer endoxifen prophylactically. This should reduce the density in the breast, thereby preventing the cancer from developing. Since tamoxifen is so effective in treating cancer, Atossa believes endoxifen should produce similar results, without any of tamoxifen’s nasty side effects.
Topical endoxifen has just entered its Phase II clinical trial, which the company expects to be completed in the middle of 2019. The randomized double-blind study is relatively straight forward. In addition to the control group that receives a placebo, there are two other groups that receive varying dosages of topical endoxifen. The groups are tested at the beginning of the trial to establish a baseline, and then tested again at 3 and 6 months. If the topical drug works, at the end of 6 months, patients should experience a reduction in breast density with minimal side effects.
In addition to its mission being unique, Atossa’s risk/reward profile is also unusual. The company isn’t seeking to develop a novel, untested compound (as is the case with most biotechs). Instead, Atossa is simply looking to find a more effective way to administer an active metabolite found in a widely used medicine. This reduces some of the uncertainty associated with clinical trials, because a number of the unknowns related to efficacy and safety are already established.
Atossa is an exciting company with a noble mission and a promising drug candidate. If Dr. Quay is successful, his company may earn a legacy that surpasses even Queen Atossa’s.
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