Editor’s note: Allan Maurer covers the life sciences industry for Local Tech Wire.Researchers at Duke Comprehensive Cancer Center have shown that four new experimental drugs slow the growth of deadly brain tumors in animals.

Jeremy Rich, M.D., assistant professor of medicine in the Brain Tumor Center at Duke, tells Local Tech Wire the results are not only expected to hold true in humans as well, they also have “broad applicability to other cancer types.”

Three of the drugs plug small pockets inside cancer cells to stop a molecule called ATP from docking. This in turn prevents the cancer cells from starting the murderous chain of events leading to uncontrolled growth.

One drug blocks angiogenesis, the process by which tumor cells grow new blood vessels. This much-touted approach to attacking cancer gained notoriety several years ago when a New York Times reporter claimed the method might result in a “cure for cancer” that failed to materialize in the short time predicted.

But cancer researchers today aren’t talking about a “cure,” says Rich. Instead, he says new drugs such as those undergoing testing at Duke may let doctors treat cancer as a chronic, manageable disease.

One of the new drugs, which helps prevent tumors from evading the immune system, may make some other current treatments more effective, Rich says.

Two of the drugs work better together than either alone and will begin testing in humans within a year. “Some are supposed to go into clinical trials in the next couple of month,” he adds.

The new drugs also herald the dawn of a new age of personalized medicine. “In the future, the idea is that we take a person’s cancer back into the lab and then say we’re going to make cocktail X-91,” says Rich. “All roads may lead to Rome, but every road may be different.”

Several drug companies, including Genentech, Astra Zeneca, Glaxo, and Abarta support the Duke cancer research. Rich says, “We work with the companies. They own the drugs. We are also working on generating our own drugs.”

Less invasive surgery

InterOptic Inc. has signed a license agreement with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and obtained a Phase I Small Business Innovative Research Grant, says Sheila Mikhail of Life Science Law, who is the company’s general counsel.

InterOptic is developing a 3D laparoscope that is expected to increase the number of surgeries possible through minimally invasive means. A laparoscope is an illuminated tube that lets surgeons work inside the body without making large incisions.

Current two-dimensional laparoscopes do not allow surgeons the precision and depth perception necessary for many operations. “The 3D device allows them to measure where they are,” says Mikhail.

It’s expected to make most knee surgery and potentially even heart and other more delicate surgeries possible via the 3D laparoscope method, she says.

The company’s technology is based on work in the world-famous UNC computer laboratory by Henry Fuchs, Andre State, and Curtis Keller. Earlier this year, InterOptic hired Bill McCulloch, formerly an executive vice president at Raleigh venture firm A.M. Pappas, as chief executive officer.

Mikhail says the company is on tract for obtaining its Phase II SBIR grant. McCulloch has said the company also seeks from $500,000 to $3 million in initial venture funding.