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Can-Fite BioPharma Ltd.

This article was originally published in Start Up

Executive Summary

Israeli start-up Can-Fite is developing small-molecule agonists of the adenosine A3 receptor, having come to its lead compound (in-licensed from the NIH) in the course of investigating why cancer never metastasizes to muscle tissue. The firm says mechanistic studies indicate that its lead compound could also treat inflammatory conditions like rheumatoid arthritis.

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Opexa Pharmaceuticals Inc.

Opexa Pharmaceuticals was founded in February 2001 to develop therapeutic vaccines for autoimmune diseases. Based on techniques designed by co-founder Jingwu Zhang of Baylor College of Medicine, its first product is a vaccine comprised of autologous myelin-reactive T-cells that stimulate the immune response of patients with multiple sclerosis. The selectivity of the process enables greater efficacy with fewer side effects than existing therapies for MS.

New Approaches to Treating Autoimmune Diseases

In the past few years, new classes of biologics have revolutionized treatment of autoimmune diseases, especially multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, and asthma. Biologics tend to be most effective because they work on specific targets and impact the underlying causes of disease. In addition to new biologics, a number of companies and academic researchers are looking at expanding applications for certain cancer drugs to autoimmune diseases. The rationale behind this is straightforward: both diseases have inflammatory effects and require cytotoxic approaches. However, for all the difficulties scientists have had in understanding cancer, they've had even more in trying to figure out autoimmune diseases. Autoimmune diseases tend to have systemic effects and thus it's hard to pinpoint a single site of disease.

Good Will Marketing

Abbott's new treatment for rheumatoid arthritis, Humira, is up against two drugs that between them generate $3 billion in sales annually. To help generate attention and distinguish the drug, Abbott is taking some unusual steps. It's offering to give drug away free to senior citizens who lack prescription drug benefits, and running general-awareness advertisements that talk about the disease rather than the drug. Contrary to conventional wisdom of what works in a crowded market, Abbott believes Humira's advantages are so compelling, that boosting the number of patients who go to see doctors will win market share for the drug--despite its coming third to market.

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