University of Canberra researchers hope to develop a new treatment aimed at preventing the spread of cancer within the body with the launch of a new company.
EpiAxis Therapeutics, backed by investment fund ANU Connect and two private, local investors, will soon take clinical trials of the drug into Canberra Hospital.
University of Canberra's Sudha Rao, professor in molecular and cellular biology, and her team were first to identify the role played by a certain enzyme in the proliferation of cancer stem cells.
The enzyme is now known to contribute to the recurrence of cancer after treatment.
Professor Rao and her team have been studying whether enzyme inhibitors can prevent metastasis – the process by which cancer cells spread to other parts of the body – by prolonging tumour remission.
The company will at first focus on breast cancer; where these stem cells were first discovered, and so more is already known about them, Professor Rao said.
The fact that worldwide, breast cancer is a leading cause of death in women, was also a factor. More than 15,000 people are diagnosed with the cancer each year in Australia, and up to 40 per cent diagnosed will have the cancer recur.
Researchers hope the work will prove valuable beyond breast cancer, as the stem cells have also been detected in other aggressive cancers like ovarian and pancreatic.
Clinical trials at Canberra Hospital are the treatment's next step.
"So that we can really, truly understand the benefit of these drugs for tackling metastatic disease, [and] so we can see if these drugs prolong patient survival, which is ultimately our goal," Professor Rao said.
The company will also work at developing a blood test for earlier detection of the cells, for which there is no comprehensive test at present.
With earlier detection clinicians could intervene quicker, in some cases even before the spread has happened, professor Rao said.
The University of Canberra will serve as the company's base as it works with clinicians at the Canberra Regional Cancer Centre and the Canberra Hospital.
Jeremy Chrisp, from ANU Connect and an entrepreneur in the field of commercialising Australian medical technology, is EpiAxis Therapeutics' founding chief executive officer.
Deputy vice-chancellor (research) and chair of the company board, Professor Frances Shannon, said: "It's exciting to see how good, innovative ideas can become a reality with the right support and the dedication of passionate researchers."
The ACT government approved on Thursday establishment of EpiAxis Therapeutics.