Local Biotech Company Develops Therapy to Treat Brain Cancer for Extended Survival - NBC 7 San Diego

Local Biotech Company Develops Therapy to Treat Brain Cancer for Extended Survival

In phase I of the clinical trial, life expectancy for 43 patients increased to 13.6 months.



    Tocagen, a Mission Beach biotech company, is using immunotherapy to kill brain cancer cells, and the latest trial results are impressive. NBC 7's Megan Tevrizian has more. (Published Wednesday, July 20, 2016)

    A local biotech company is getting national attention for developing a therapy that nearly doubles the survival expectancy for patients with brain cancer.

    Tocagen, based in Mission Beach ran clinical trials on patients using cancer-selective viral gene therapy. 

    The data is published in the scientific journal Science Translational Medicine, and stems from a UCSD trial in 2013.

    One of the patients in the trial is 72-year old Max Levy from La Mesa. Max was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2013. After traditional methods of cancer treatment were unsuccessful, he and his family decided to participate in the Tocagen clinical trial.

    “When we first got the diagnosis, our whole family felt like it was a death sentence,” Levy's wife Marilyn said. “Tocagen has been the greatest gift that anyone could possibly have given Max, and every day is a special day."

    Now, Levy, owner of Allen Flowers, says he feels great, and doesn’t have many side effects.

    “I work. Not as much as I used to but I can still work,” he said.

    High grade gliomas (HGGs) are among the most common and aggressive primary brain cancers. In 2016, approximately 160,000 patients worldwide are expected to be diagnosed with HGG. The two most common forms of HGGs are glioblastoma (GBM) and anaplastic astrocytoma. With current standard of care, newly diagnosed GBM patients have a median survival of approximately 16 months. Median survival after recurrence is typically seven to nine months, according to Tocagen.

    During a phase I multi-center clinical trial, researchers found the survival expectancy increased to 13.6 months for 43 participants who were given the Toca 511 and Toca FC viruses. Survivial was extended to more than two years for some patiends with few side affects, according to a UCLA news release who authored the paper.

    Tocagen CEO Harry Gruber believes this study could be breakthrough in how we treat brain cancer.

    “There’s an initial killing of the tumor, then there’s a second punch where the immune system is activated and turns on against the cancer and then the patients can get very long term remissions,” Gruber said.

    Tocagen is currently looking for patients for an upcoming trial called the Toca-Five Trial.