Technology & innovation

OncoMax’s anti-cancer drug passes pre-clinical trials

21 Sep '11
Oleg Kouzbit, Online News Managing Editor

Moscow-based biotech company OncoMax has recently completed reportedly successful pre-clinical trials of its cutting-edge humanized monoclonal antibody drug. The firm’s revolutionary development is yet another in a series of Russian biomed sector breakthroughs focusing on anti-cancer treatment.

According to OncoMax, their drug target (also known as drug design), designated OM-RCA-01, works by blocking fibroblasts’ growth factor receptor, thus inhibiting progression of renal cell carcinoma or Grawitz’ tumor.

The firm’s new drug is believed to be sophisticated enough to selectively pinpoint specific aims on a malignant cell in kidneys, disabling its development and resistance mechanisms.

The main players

OncoMax is a joint project of Maxwell Biotech Group and the Seed Investment Fund set up last year by Russian Venture Company.

The start-up firm is part of the Moscow-based Maxwell Biotech Group holding, and a resident of a biomed cluster at Russia’s Skolkovo innovation hub outside Moscow. Its sole focus is the development and commercialization of biopharmaceuticals for diagnosis and treatment of cancer. OM-RCA-01 is reportedly their first major product.

Maxwell Biotech Group comprises developers and service companies that work to promote innovative biotech projects in Russia. In addition to commercializing new products and technologies the group is said to contribute to the creation of Russia’s fledgling innovation infrastructure.

Established by Russian Venture Company (RVC) in collaboration with Russia’s Bortnik Fund with initial capital of $65m, the Seed Investment Fund has a mandate to invest in young Russian innovative companies that have potential in the domestic and global hi-tech markets. One of the Fund’s priorities is the spawning of technology SMEs across economic sectors; the Seed Investment Fund then assists them in raising early stage VC money.

Perfecting monoclonal antibodies

OncoMax researchers created the so-called humanized monoclonal antibodies from non-human species rather than using material from human immune systems.

In the technique, the species’ protein sequences are altered to make them more similar to antibody variants that the human organism is able to naturally produce. Once administered, such monoclonal antibody therapy is believed to improve a patient’s immune system to better fight cancer cells.

In November 2010, OncoMax successfully humanized its new anti-cancer agent. In the antibody, 93% of the mouse protein was replaced with as much of the appropriate human antibody as possible. In so doing the researchers lowered immunogenicity of the agent and ensured its safer administering to patients. Upon humanization OM-RCA-01 purportedly retained its crucial characteristics, including increased specificity and affinity to the targeted antigen.

On target

OncoMax says the drug target’s tumor-inhibiting properties were revealed and documented in August at both in-vitro (on cell models) and in-vivo (on animals) tests. In experiments that involved animals, the researchers are said to have determined clear distinctions in the size of tumor and survival rate between animals that were given the anti-cancer agent and those that were not.

Wide uses ahead

The innovative agent “has received approval” from a number of international expert panels, OncoMax claims. Further testing should reveal the new monoclonal antibody’s possible toxicity with animals and its overall effect on the human organism.

The developers say the prospective drug will be used both in first-line therapy and as a powerful reinforcement for less effective treatment methods at further stages.

Russia’s biomed sector on the move

OncoMax’s ground-breaking development is yet another in a series of successful efforts by Russia’s biomed sector to develop new anti-cancer treatments. Here is a review of the most promising:


This $115m project, engineered by privately-owned Human Stem Cell Institute and scheduled for full-blown launch in 2015, is focused on development of histone H1-based medicines critical in the treatment of oncology patients.

Siberian State Medical University

Earlier this year, Tomsk-based Siberian State Medical University unveiled its new positron emission tomography technology (PET) that developers say will enable physicians to diagnose oncologic and other serious diseases with an “unparalleled level of accuracy.” At the heart of the innovation is the creation of radio (y-emitting) tracers based on polyvalent iodine.

Universal BioSystems

St. Petersburg’s Universal BioSystems—also a resident of a biomed cluster at Skolkovo—is reportedly working on new approaches to cancer treatment based on full-cycle oncologic diagnostics. The developers claim their drugs “have no clinical analogs in the world”.

Budker Nuclear Physics Institute

This summer, Novosibirsk’s Budker Nuclear Physics Institute tested its new elementary particle accelerator on living cancer-afflicted cells. The new treatment has successfully been used to treat cancer on animals. At the heart of the new technology is boron-neutron capture which researchers say kills cancer while leaving surrounding areas intact.

Medical Radiology Research Center

The Russian Academy of Sciences’ Medical Radiology Research Center in Obninsk, Kaluga region, has developed Russia’s first compact neutron generator to treat malignant tumors. Preliminary tests are said to have been successful.

Rusnano/Domain Associates

Russia’s Rusnano has pooled efforts with the U.S.’ Domain Associates in a prospective JV to develop, manufacture and market a “diversified” line of oncology and other innovation drugs and modern diagnostics equipment.


Russia’s nuclear energy giant, Rosatom, is stepping up its effort to make molybdenum-99—a critical isotope to produce y-tracers. Production on the premises of its Nuclear Reactors Research Institute in Dimitrovgrad, Ulyanovsk region, is being increased and Germany’s Siemens is expected to be a key partner.

Russian Venture Company—the powerful government-owned player behind OncoMax’s new monoclonal antibody project—sees biotech as a high priority. According to CEO Igor Agamirzyan, about $50m—more than half of funds invested through the company in 2010—went to pharma projects across the country. In early 2011 Russia officially announced a goal of increasing pharmaceutical exports over the next ten years eight times their present volume.
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