On this page you will find summary information and a FAQ that might be helpful to the media. If we can assist further, write to John Boik at the address given on our Contact page.
Q. What is different about the approach taken by New Earth BioMed for cancer drug discovery?
A. First, mixtures are being studied early in the preclinical discovery phase, where there are more opportunities to identify synergistic interactions. Typically, cancer drugs are developed as single agents, and it is only after market approval by the FDA that they are studied in combinations with other approved drugs.
Second, New Earth BioMed is focusing on natural products as the source of mixture components. Natural products offer a vast resource of diverse bioactive compounds.
Lastly, New Earth BioMed is studying large mixtures, containing perhaps dozens of compounds, each at a low dose. The idea here is that larger mixtures allow greater opportunities to fine-tune the biologic effects of a mixture, as well as its safety. Furthermore, they facilitate targeting of a larger set of proteins in the cell, so that more mechanisms that support cancer progression can be inhibited.
Q. How long would it be before you try these mixtures in humans?
A. We don’t know. A lot will depend on the success of our research in the labs. Right now, we are studying mixtures in specially-developed three-dimensional cell co-cultures. These better mimic conditions in a human than traditional cell cultures. We have a very large number of mixtures to screen for biologic activity, and use of cell cultures is the only viable way to do that. Once lead mixtures are identified, we will move forward with detailed preclinical assessment and then human studies.
Q. How does the New Earth BioMed approach compare to traditional herbal medicine systems with ancient roots, such as Traditional Chinese Medicine?
A. We find inspiration in herbal medicine systems, such as Traditional Chinese Medicine in China, Kampo in Japan, and Ayurveda in India. But our program incorporates the latest generation of bioanalytical technologies, sophisticated computer modeling, and emerging concepts from molecular biology to precisely identify active agents and their biologic effects. Furthermore, highly purified extracts and isolated compounds are studied, rather than crude plant extracts as might be used in herbal medicine.
Q. How are you able to tell if the complex mixtures are working to inhibit cancer cells?
A. We are developing an advanced laser bioassay system that we will use, along with more traditional bioanalytical technologies, to screen mixtures for their effects on cancer and normal cells. A detailed description of the laser bioassay project is given in the research Roadmap and on its project page.
Q. Why are you doing this?
A. We do this because cancer patients need more effective and safer treatments. We embrace an emerging world view in biology that looks at disease and cellular health from a systems perspective. For the last 20 years, the standard view was more reductionist: find a malfunctioning part of the system (a malfunctioning protein) and inhibit that. The emerging view is to consider whole sections of the protein network as a target, rather than an isolated protein within it. It is a broader view that is more in line with biological reality. For complex chronic diseases such as cancer, a broader view is particularly important, as there usually is not just one "bad" protein to blame for the disease.
Q. Who is financing your research?
A. We are a tax-exempt 501(c)3 nonprofit and as such are supported by individual, group and corporate donations, as well as public and private grants.
Q. Do you intend that your mixtures, if effective, would be eventually marketed to consumers and cancer patients?
A. Yes, if we are successful with this research. Our goal is to bring safer and more effective therapies to patients in need.
Q. Why haven’t the big pharmaceutical drug companies looked into this kind of research?
A. An increasing number of studies are being published on systems biology, and it is being talked about throughout academia and industry. But many pharmaceutical firms have not yet made a decisive switch to a systems biology perspective. We are pushing the envelope of systems biology by considering large mixtures (of natural compounds).
It makes sense that large mixtures offer greater opportunities to fine tune the biologic effects and safety, but relatively little scientific work has been done to demonstrate the merits of large mixtures. In one in-vitro study, published by Dr. Boik, et al, use of large mixtures of natural products in combination with the chemotherapy drug doxorubicin allowed concentrations of doxorubicin to be reduced 10-fold without loss of efficacy. Much more work along these lines is needed.
We do not expect large pharmaceutical firms to study (unaltered) natural compounds in large mixtures, even if they were supportive of a systems biology approach, because it would not fit their models for financial success. In the past, profits were maximized by developing novel pure compounds of patentable structure. Developing large mixtures of unaltered (often unpatentable) natural products would be a radical departure.
Q. Where can people go to find out more about the research?
A. Read the various articles on the website www.newearthbiomed.org, and sign up on the mailing lists there.
Q. How can prople contribute to this work?
A. At www.newearthbiomed.org, visitors can click on the “donate” button to make tax-exempt contributions. There is also a Volunteers page, where visitors can learn of opportunities to contribute time and expertise.