Ziopharm goes organic for potential prostate cancer treatment

Ziopharm Oncology ($ZIOP) says it has generated preclinical data showing that a novel form of arsenic--a poison spoken of in gothic murder mysteries--can successfully fight the growth of prostate cancer. But the key is to go organic.

Inorganic arsenic trioxide blocks the growth of certain tumors but can be highly toxic; an organic arsenic drug would theoretically be a far safer option, the company says. The firm disclosed details of its study Nov. 13 at the AACR-NCI-EORTC International Conference on Molecular Targets and Cancer Therapeutics in San Francisco.

Specifically, Ziopharm's researchers tested the effect of darinaparsin, or ZIO-101, on the Hedgehog signaling pathway in prostate cancer. The system is a key regulator of cell development in animals and gives cells the data they need to develop properly, but scientists believe it can be a factor in the development of a number of cancers if signaling runs amok.

Their discovery: the drug blocked formation of DU145 prostate cells, which in turn prevented the formation of prostate stem cell colony formation and prostate spheroid growth. But crucially, the drug also reduced levels of the transcription factor Gli2. Gli2 is a result of the activated Hedgehog pathway and can be elevated with certain cancers, the company says. Ziopharm said it also found that the drug worked effectively combined with taxotere, an FDA-approved treatment for advanced prostate cancer.

The biopharmaceutical company has operations in New York, Boston and Germantown, MD.

- here's the Ziopharm release