Targeted Small Molecules can Enhance Treatment for Glioblastoma Multiforme, winning the National Innovation Award

Date: 2019/12/07

The team involved in the research of a new immunotherapy drug for glioblastoma multiforme includes Superintendent Shinn-Zong Lin (far right), Associate Vice President of Innovation and R&D Center, Professor Horng-Jyh Harn (second from right), Professor Tzyy-Wen Chiou (far left) from the R&D Office of DongHua University, and Ph.D. candidate Sheng-Feng Tsai from the Department of Life Sciences at National Chung Hsing University.

Superintendent Shinn-Zong Lin led the new drug innovation and development team to discover the targeted small molecule drug EF-001, which is used to inhibit the cancer immune checkpoint PD-L1, activate immune T cells, and enhance the immunotherapy effect of glioblastoma multiforme. This is a major breakthrough in global immunotherapy research for glioblastoma multiforme and has been recognized by the National Innovation Award with the “Academic Research and Innovation Award”.

The research team from the Innovation and Development Center at the Buddhist Tzu Chi General Hospital in Hualien made a new breakthrough in immunotherapy for malignant brain tumors. The National Innovation Award was presented to Superintendent shinn-Zong Lin by Deputy Minister of Science and Technology, Shieh Dar-bin (right).

Malignant tumors remain the leading cause of death among Taiwanese people. According to statistical reports from the American Cancer Society (ACS) and the Central Brain Tumor Registry of the United States (CBTRUS), an estimated 20,000 new cases of brain tumors are diagnosed each year, with around 400 cases being malignant gliomas in Taiwan.

Glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) is the most common and deadliest malignant brain tumor in adults. The tumor can grow up to 16 times within a month, making it a rapidly deteriorating primary brain tumor with a very high recurrence rate after surgical removal. Patients diagnosed with stage IV GBM typically have an average survival time of only 12 to 18 months. Malignant brain tumors spread rapidly and are difficult to eradicate. Once diagnosed, the average survival time for patients is usually only about one year, and the five-year survival rate is only 3.4%. Currently, the standard treatment for malignant brain tumors involves a combination of surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy, all of which have limited effectiveness.

For more than a decade, the Tzu Chi New Drug Development Research Team in Hualien has been devoted to developing new drugs to help brain tumor patients improve their quality of life and extend their survival time. They first discovered that the components of Angelica sinensis can help treat glioblastoma multiforme. In 2014, they screened traditional Chinese herbs and found the small molecule HK-001, which targets the telomerase enzyme, a molecular clock for cellular aging. HK-001 can significantly inhibit telomerase activity and cause cancer cells to age rapidly. Moreover, when combined with biodegradable polyanhydride, HK-001-Wafer can achieve local high drug concentration, high permeability, and long-lasting efficacy, effectively inhibiting tumor cell growth while causing very low toxicity to normal cells. HK-001-Wafer has obtained multiple patents for fighting human glioblastoma multiforme and has been recognized with the National Innovation Award. In August 2016, it received approval of investigational new drug application  from the US FDA and Taiwan TFDA (IND, NCT03234595). Phase I/IIa clinical trials have been completed with six patients, and it has won the “New Innovator Award” again this year.

For over a decade, Shinn-Zong Lin (fourth from the left) has led a team dedicated to researching new drugs for the treatment of glioblastoma multiforme. Their targeted therapy drug, which enhances chemotherapy, has entered phase I trial, and they have made new discoveries in global research on immunotherapy for malignant brain tumors.

The research team, which includes President Hsin-Jung Lin, Associate Vice President of Innovation and Research and Development Professor Hong-Jhih Han, Director of Research and Development Zih-Wen Chiu from National Dong Hwa University, and PhD candidate Sheng-Feng Tsai from the Department of Life Sciences at National Chung Hsing University, has made a significant breakthrough in the field of global glioblastoma multiforme immunotherapy research. After years of hard work, the team discovered that EF-001, an extract from Angelica sinensis, can inhibit the cancer immune checkpoint PD-L1 in animal experiments, enhancing the effectiveness of malignant glioma immunotherapy. In other words, EF-001 can remove the “tentacles” of T-cells that are shut down by PD-L1, enabling T-cells to recognize tumors and kill tumor cells, thereby improving the efficacy of immunotherapy.

This year, the National Innovation Award is divided into two categories for the first time: the Academic Research and Innovation Award and the Innovative Advancement Award. The Innovative Advancement Award is to recognize teams that have previously won the National Innovation Award and are still continuing clinical research and development. The innovative research and development team at Tzu Chi Hospital in Hualien has made a new discovery that EF-001, a targeted small-molecule drug, can strip off the camouflage of tumor cells, enhancing the effectiveness of glioblastoma multiforme immunotherapy. This achievement has won them the recognition of the Academic Research and Innovation Award.

In addition to the HK-001-Wafer, which won a renewal award for combating human glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), Tzu Chi Hospital has also made significant contributions in the fields of minimally invasive artificial knee joint surgery instruments, and bacteriophage cleaners, winning the National Innovation Award in 2010 and 2016, respectively. Associate Vice President of Innovation and Research and Development Professor Horng-Jyh Harn and his team were also awarded the National Innovation Award in 2017 for their development project aimed at treating amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). They have now received the prestigious Innovative Advancement Award this year.

Professor Horng-Jyh Harn, Vice President of the Innovation and Development Center and recipient of the 2017 National Innovation Award for the “Development of a Treatment for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS),” is pictured second from the left. Also pictured is the HK-001-Wafer, which won the National Innovation Award in 2014 for its use in combating human malignant glioma. The award was accepted on behalf of Everfront Biotech Inc. by Chairwoman Pei-wen Chou. Both projects were recognized with the New Innovative Enhancement Award this year.

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