AusBiotech Updates

A promise to a dying friend turns to a quest for a cure

26 January 2012:

It began with a promise to a dying friend and became a dedicated quest to find a cure for cancer…and a fundraiser to help.

A fundraiser for cancer research is a common-enough, albeit important, event to raise funds for ongoing cancer research in the search to find the ‘Holy Grail’ – a cure for cancer. Behind each event is always a group of passionate people, often each with their own remarkable personal stories to tell. The story behind the EnGeneIC Cancer Research Foundation and its coming ‘Black Tie Dinner’ is an extraordinary story of dedication.

Scratch the surface and we find a journey that started 20 years ago with a bed-side pledge to a dying colleague and friend by two remarkable scientists, Drs Jennifer MacDiarmid and Himanshu Brahmbhatt, which began the quest to find a cure and led to the establishment of a biotech company, EnGeneIC Ltd, and a foundation to channel donations into Australian cancer research.

The two researchers were working on a disease in sheep when one of their colleagues was diagnosed with lung cancer. The day before he died, he urged them to start researching a cure for cancer. Their pledge to their friend saw them begin work that very night, reading all they could on the topic, and the two continued working after hours for some years until their boss, Sir Malcolm McIntosh, announced that he had terminal kidney cancer.

They began treating him and were so encouraged by the results decided to set up their own company, EnGeneIC. Upon further research, they developed an idea to deliver anti-cancer drugs to the body in a way that vastly improves chemotherapy. The technique targets the cancer with a minicell called an EnGeneIC Delivery Vehicle (EDV).

This breakthrough biotechnology has generated enormous interest among scientists working in this field and seen the work published in respected journals, Nature Biotechnology, Cancer Cell and Current Opinion in Biotechnology . The EDV has been successfully tested on animals and has shown a very good safety profile in a first-in-man, phase I clinical trial.

In layman’s terms the treatment is targeting cancer cells with anti-cancer drugs and leaving the normal cells in the rest of the body alone. They make the EDV using buds from bacterial cells. These minicells contain no genetic material and cannot cause disease. You can load the minicells with anti-cancer medicine and attach antibodies that recognise cancer cells. Once the minicell is bound to a cancer cell, it is engulfed, emptying its poisonous contents directly into the targeted cell. Non-cancerous cells are not affected.

In 2007, EnGeneIC and its background story featured in an episode of the ABC’s Australian Story. After the show aired, EnGeneIC started to receive donations from the public and a foundation supported by volunteers and cancer survivors was set up to receive those contributions and direct them to appropriate cancer research. The EnGeneIC Cancer Research Foundation was founded in Sydney and works to support Australian research in developing targeted cancer treatments, funding patients into clinical trials and young Australian scientists to complete a PhD or post-doctoral studies through scholarship support.

The foundation is holding its inaugural fundraising dinner on February 24 in Sydney at Doltone House, overlooking Sydney Harbour. Several entertainers, including Kamahl, have volunteered their time and Deborah Hutton will MC the event. Generous companies, such as Brokenwood, have donated items and an auction will be held. Prizes that have been donated include a week’s accommodation at a Swiss chalet in Klosters, 18 holes of golf with Deborah Hutton at one of Sydney’s most prestigious golf courses and a holiday at the Sky House Lifetime Private Retreat on Kangaroo Island.

Tickets can be purchased for the dinner by visiting here or phoning 02 8203 5030.