In the last two decades oncology has seen a revolution as treatment transitions to targeted genetic drugs. Yet each therapy relies on a specific genetic profile, limiting the number of diseases it can target. Filtricine is taking a unique approach to treating cancer, targeting changes in cancer cell metabolism rather than genetics. Their approach aims to provide a side-effect free approach to treating a broad range of cancers which all share these metabolic weaknesses.
I chatted with Xiyan Li, co-founder and CEO of Filtricine about his origins and the company’s mission to revolutionize oncology.
Can you tell us a bit about how you became interested in the science of metabolism?
I’m a trained biochemist so I always understand biology from the chemical perspective. Basically, I believe that chemistry is the foundation of life. For life, you only needed two things: metabolism as the chemical foundation, alongside intelligence. If you understand the chemical foundation, you will have a really powerful solution to solve a lot of biological problems.
How did you take this theory and turn it into Filtricine?
In the world of cancer, many people are just focusing on what’s wrong in the cancer cell’s genome, what genes are mutated, and how those functions may contribute to this malignancy. It may be easy for people to forget that because cancer cells are so good at evading drugs by quickly evolving new mutations, it’s probably not the best idea or best strategy to treat them with drugs that are targeting one form of a gene function. My co-founder and CTO, Jimmy, and I, we were both working on metabolism where it is very well known that cancer cells have a very distinctive type of metabolism, which we usually call the Warburg effect. We take advantage of this change in cancer metabolism to create a new type of therapy.
Can you tell us about this new therapy that you’re taking forward into preclinical studies?
We are focusing on reprogrammed metabolism in cancer cells. Due to cancer cells rapid growth, they make a critical compromise: they give up the ability to synthesize many nutrients inside in the cell. These cells have to rely on getting those nutrients from the blood, but normal cells aren’t reliant on the supply available in blood as they can synthesize these nutrients within themselves. First, we have to find out what these nutrients are and then figure out how to take just those nutrients out of the blood, then we can achieve killing cancer cells while simultaneously leaving normal cells unharmed.
The actual product we’re making is a fully drug free nutrition deprivation diet and dialysis. We give patients a diet designed to specifically deprive the body of certain nutrients cancer requires, but are not necessary for healthy cells. The second part is a plasma-mimicking dialysate designed to further pull these specific nutrients out of the body.
How do you think this approach, if successful, can change the pharmaceutical industry?
I think that there are two things. First, we are a drug-free therapy, so we do not use any drug content and our products are a solution, a mixture of things known by the body to be non-toxic, so we can quickly customize solutions based on individual requirements. This means that it is totally customizable, yet scalable. Second, we are broad-spectrum. So far, almost all kinds of drugs are developed by targeting just one particular indication, while our products have demonstrated a broad spectrum efficacy, and it’s likely that we are hitting on a universal feature that is underlying this cancer metabolism. This means that we can actually kill a variety of cancers through attacking this common feature.
What are some lessons learned transitioning from a research scientist into being an entrepreneurial scientist here at IndieBio?
We were scientists, not entrepreneurs, before joining IndieBio, so we thought of things very differently than after going through the IndieBio program. As a scientist, you only want to be the first and that is your focus, but as an entrepreneur, you want to be the best. What you want is to figure out and execute a viable solution to make your products that are as good as possible.
What are some important milestones that you’re looking to hit in the near future as a company?
We are currently at the preclinical stage, our aim is to move to human trials as soon as possible.