Beyond chemo: How a Portland company is advancing cancer treatment

Portland-based MolecularMD announced Monday it obtained a license to commercialize a diagnostic technology that will lead to a more targeted treatment for a type of lung cancer.

MolecularMD entered into a license agreement granting it exclusive patent rights to the diagnostic technology. The diagnostic test becomes more powerful when a drug is tied to it, which is in the process of happening, said Greg Cox, MolecularMD’s director of licensing.

About 235,000 lung cancer cases are diagnosed annually and a subtype of a subtype is “squamous cell cancer,” which affects 50,000 people, Cox said. A gene marker has been identified that can be targeted and provide an avenue for treatment other than chemotherapy. Targeted drugs are already available for other kinds of cancer, and several candidates could work for this one.

“It opens the door for a new kind of hope for those patients,” Cox said. “Patients have had no alternative other than chemo.”

MolecularMD is developing the diagnostic test and will work with a pharmaceutical partner and perform a clinical trial. Patients will be tested for the gene mutation with MolecularMD’s diagnostic test and if they have it, they can go onto the drug the pharmaceutical company is developing.

MolecularMD develops and commercializes specialty molecular diagnostics for oncology applications. It works with pharmaceutical companies running clinical trials examining the efficacy of new drugs and serves as the middle man between the inventor, usually a university, and the pharmaceutical company that designs the drug.

MolecularMD is a spin off of Oregon Health & Science University, which has a financial stake in the company. It also has a license for a pill technology that could help leukemia patients whose disease symptoms don’t respond to other available drugs.

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