Ziopharm vows to wow cancer field with synthetic biology drugs

Ziopharm CEO Jonathon Lewis believes he has the kind of game-changing technology that can revolutionize cancer therapy and radically drive down costs. He tells Reuters that the biotech company has already lined up data from a tiny trial to be unveiled at ASCO and there are 13 IND filings planned in 2012/2013 as the biotech builds its pipeline.

In an in-house program, Ziopharm researchers stripped down ifosfamide to its active ingredient, eliminating some harsh side effects that are all too often experienced by patients. A study of sarcoma delayed disease progression by three months in one study and late-stage data should be out next year. Ziopharm is using Intrexon's synthetic biology technology to assemble DNA that can spawn cancer killers inside tumors, calibrating the treatment with a pill.

A spokesperson for Ziopharm tells FierceBiotech this morning that their first collaborative drug with Intrexon is DC-RTS-IL-12, "which are dendritic cells that have been modified with Intrexon's synthetic DNA to produce IL-12, a potent anti-cancer and immune modulating protein."  Their production process bypasses the complex and extremely expensive methods now used to manufacture biologics, offering a cheaper alternative to the medications now being introduced.

"This has the potential to revolutionize how we make drugs, to get cost down, down, down," Lewis told Reuters. "The world is changing; the U.S. is changing. Very expensive drugs are going to struggle." As Robert Langreth reported near the beginning of the year for Forbes, Intrexon took a 12 percent stake in Ziopharm as they began to collaborate on using the technology to create new treatments that are less toxic and more targeted. 

Intrexon CEO Randal Kirk, meanwhile, is promising to change the world with new, synthetic DNA molecules that can be injected into a region around a tumor and then activated by a pill. Its lead program could offer an alternative to surgery for hard-to-reach tumors. As FierceBiotech reported earlier this week, Intrexon has raised an additional $100 million. And Kirk, who owns a big stake in Intrexon, has already made a fortune from the sale of New River Pharmaceuticals.

- here's the story from Reuters