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Last November, Cannabis Tech reported about scientific advances in cannabis and cancer treatment from Pascal Biosciences and the University of Washington. To elaborate on the topic, Genifer Murray, invited Dr. Patrick Gray, CEO of Pascal Biosciences to discuss their research and why pharmaceutical derivatives of cannabis should be explored and encouraged.
With 38 years in the biotech industry, Dr. Gray recalled his interest in Pascal Biosciences stating, “I’ve always been interested in developing products for cancer.” With recent research, it appears Dr. Gray is fulfilling his goal.
The Relationship Between Cannabis and Cancer
“We went looking for modulators to improve the immune system and its ability to fight cancer,” he explained. Although the scientific founder spent ten years studying thousands of compounds, Dr. Gray and his team discovered the best compound came from cannabis. Dr. Gray said, “The cannabinoid had about ten times better cancer-fighting activity than anything he had ever seen.”
In 2018, Pascal Biosciences described their initial discovery to enhance the immune system. Since then, researchers have continued their work to confirm the results in mice and cultured cells. “We’ve been able to show, that treating mice with cannabinoids creates a nice immune response,” Dr. Gray concluded.
Glioblastoma – Research and Trials
Dr. Gray recognized an unmet need. Glioblastoma is a type of devastating brain cancer that affects about 15,000 patients annually. A deadly form of brain cancer, the prognosis is very dire. The average patient only lives about 14 months beyond diagnosis and has few treatment options.
“Temozolomide, a DNA alkylator, is the only chemotherapeutic which passes through the blood-brain barrier,” Dr. Gray noted. While Temozolomide dates back to the 1950s, it typically only extends the patient’s life by about two months. Just as other types of chemo drugs have proven to be more effective in combination with other drugs, Dr. Gray is hopeful their research may lead to a synergistic effect of combining traditional therapies with cannabis-derived compounds, thus presenting multiple mechanisms to kill tumors.
Because most cannabinoids pass the blood-brain barrier and phytocannabinoids have an excellent safety profile, Dr. Gray is hopeful but understands the process for approval will take time. “The rules for treating patients with cannabis have been archaic for decades, and because of that, good, qualified research has not been done,” Dr. Gray confirmed.
The Need for Synthetics
While much of the industry has typically resisted pharmaceutical involvement, ST-403 is an excellent example of using advanced science for a specific purpose. Gray recalled a scientific publication from 2000 that found cannabinoids can kill glioblastoma cells; however, the amount of THC required to achieve the results was high and created debilitating psychotropic effects in test rodents.
Through chemistry, Pascal Biosciences researchers have been able to increase the potency of THC’s ability to fight brain cancer up to 300 times, while simultaneously reducing THC’s psychoactive strength.
While ST-403 is derived from cannabis, the compound works through a different mechanism than CB1 and CB2. Dr. Gray elaborated, “Our scientific collaborator, Nephi Stella discovered the glioblastoma cells were dying whether or not the subject had those receptors.”
“And thus, began the long road to discover that mechanism,” he continued.
As a synthetic cannabinoid, ST-403 has evolved away from THC and CBD significantly, but in doing so, the compound works specifically on glioblastoma cells with a characterized mechanism of action. While Dr. Gray admits synthetics create variables in the effects and could deviate from the safety profile of natural cannabinoids, he explained, “When talking about cancer, you want a toxic compound, one that is toxic to the tumor and less toxic to normal cells. Tumor-specific compounds limit the amount of damage to normal tissues.”
As Dr. Gray and Pascal Biosciences progress through the process of receiving FDA approval, they hope to begin clinical trials on human patients by the end of 2019. Additionally, Dr. Gray mentioned another program on cannabinoids and cancer using natural cannabinoids to enhance the immune system.
“Your body is killing tumor cells on a daily basis,” he shared. “Tumor cells are created through mutations, carcinogens, and UV light. These cells are destroyed by your immune system every day.”
Continuing, Dr. Gray said, “The way a tumor evades the immune system is by cloaking themselves, so they are unrecognized by the immune system. Then it can grow out of control.” While chemotherapy and new drugs work well for some people, only about 20-40 percent of patients respond to them; and cannabinoids may work to increase this response rate.
“Cannabinoids will find their place in cancer treatment,” Dr. Gray reinforced. “Physicians are typically conservative when it comes to treating patients. If there’s an established protocol which works, then that’s what they use. Only through valid research will physicians take notice.”
Through the research, not only does cannabis gain legitimacy in the eyes of physicians and lawmakers, but it provides hope for many patients given a devastating diagnosis. While whole plant medicines may be preferred, we cannot discount the potential life-saving capabilities of cannabis derivatives, created in a lab. Regardless of their source, patients should be provided with all options for treating their conditions. Isn’t that how the cannabis movement got started in the first place?