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Fighting cancer with Synthetic Biology

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Each year more than one million people in the United States get cancer, according to the American Cancer Society, and cancer remains the second most common cause of death in the U.S., accounting for nearly one of every four deaths.

But Fairfield resident Dr. Jonathan J. Lewis is hopeful about the future. Lewis is chief executive officer of Ziopharm Oncology, where he and his team are working to develop new cancer therapies.

Lewis’ work at Ziopharm employs a biomedical technique using synthetic biology. This new technology attacks cancer through boosting the immune system via administering smart synthetic DNA under tight control. Clinical trial data is showing positive outcomes.

By designing drugs that work with different “switches” that can be turned on and off quickly, the power to carefully regulate effects is possible. So far, this technology, called Ad-RTS-IL-12, has had potent anti-cancer effects on melanoma, breast cancer and tumors in the brain.

“Ad-RTS-IL-12 seems to offer precise control over a potent immuno-oncology weapon, the IL-12 cytokine,” said Dr. Antonio Chiocca, professor and chairman of neurosurgery at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School. “With malignant glioma in particular, delivery of IL-12 is one of several promising experimental approaches being tested, but unlike other therapies the ability to control IL-12 expression in vivo may prove to be ground breaking.”

Originally from Johannesburg, South Africa, Lewis was trained in surgery in South Africa, Britain and the U.S., and received his Ph.D. at the Yale School of Medicine. His subspecialty was cancer, and he spent a decade at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City treating patients, teaching and conducting research.

“We are entering a golden age of improvement, with knowledge and innovation coming more rapidly than ever before,” Lewis said. “Technology is changing the landscape and disrupting the way we live. For instance, patients are becoming consumers, learning about their choices and going to their doctors to guide them in the decision making process. In medical research, collaborations are taking place, with teams of people sharing knowledge and increasing the speed of progress like never before. It’s a new paradigm.”

Lewis is also aiming to provide treatments that are affordable. Borrowing Henry Ford’s model of mass production, Lewis plans to develop cancer fighting drugs that are more efficient to produce and less expensive for the patient.

“Access is so key. We’re creating a production line of usable parts and driving the cost down to make treatment affordable to everyone,” Lewis said. “I see a way forward through this. I’m very optimistic about the future.”

Source from: fairfield-sun.com

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