In front of you, a steaming dish of pad thai is simmering. The flavor and texture are precisely what you’d expect from a fast takeaway supper, but this isn’t just a meal; it’s also medication.
In this hypothetical scenario, the pad thai would be consumed as part of a cancer-fighting regimen developed by Faeth Therapeutics. Specifically customized to “starve your tumor” (which scientists have previously genetically analyzed), the meal itself would be used in conjunction with existing cancer medications and treatments to achieve the desired results. Although this “precision nutrition” approach to cancer therapy is relatively new, Faeth Therapeutics, launched in 2019, is expecting to be the first company to carry it to the clinical trial stage.
“What led to the founding of the company was three independent groups of world-class scientists, each of whom realized that we were essentially ignoring a massive part of human biology and the treatment of cancer,” Anand Parikh, founder, and CEO of Faeth Therapeutics, tells. “We were ignoring a massive part of human biology and the treatment of cancer,” Parikh says.
In my head, I like to refer to this as the Manhattan Project of cancer biology. The researchers approached the problem from different perspectives. Still, they concluded that “we must change the nutrition of cancer patients to not only enhance the efficacy of existing therapies but also to aid in the development of new therapies that target these nutrient vulnerabilities.”
On Tuesday, Faeth Therapeutics announced the completion of a $20 million seed round. This is the first time that the 15-person firm has raised external funding in this manner. Khosla Ventures and Future Ventures were the co-led investors in the round. S2G Ventures, Digitalis, KdT Ventures, Agfunder, Cantos, and Unshackled are among the companies that have invested in the project.
One of the first things that come to mind when thinking about Faeth Therapeutics is the scientific team that has put up this company. Faeth’s co-founders include Siddhartha Mukherjee, author of “The Emperor of All Maladies” (winner of the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction) and an oncologist at Columbia University; Lewis Cantley, director of Weill Cornell’s Meyer Cancer Center and discoverer of the PI3K signaling pathway; and Karen Vousden, chief scientist of Cancer Research UK and group leader at the Francis Crick Institute in Cambridge, England. Vousden is well-known for her research on the p53 tumor suppressor protein, which she discovered.
Cantley and Vousden, in particular, were among the first to conduct in-depth investigations on the relationship between metabolism and cancer treatments.
Examples include PI3K, a cell-signaling system that is involved in the regulation of cell metabolism and growth, as well as cell survival and proliferation, but which is often dysregulated in cancer patients. There are medications that are designed to target this route; however, Cantley’s research reveals that some patients end up with hyperglycemia, which may end up activating this dysregulated process in the first place anyway. Instead, he has shown that reducing insulin levels via dietary interventions may assist to prevent such re-activation and improve the function of the medicine in certain cases. According to a research published in “Nature,” feeding mice a ketogenic diet (low-carb, high-fat) might lower glycogen storage and avoid increases in blood sugar levels that could be interfering with the drug’s efficiency.
So far, the preclinical research has been sporadically encouraging, but much more work is needed (as Mukherjee points out in his own op-ed summarizing Cantley’s findings), as well as a better understanding of the disease. While acknowledging that more work has to be done to enhance this study, Parikh believes that a more tailored approach to nutritional therapy is needed.
“I believe a lot of people have taken the approach of saying: keto diet, glioblastoma, let’s go.” “However, there’s another layer behind it,” he explains. [It should be noted that the ketogenic diet has also been used in select glioblastoma patients.]
“We’ve discovered that, because of the way a pancreatic tumor functions, those who have pancreatic cancer may have increased nutritional requirements for particular nutrients.” In this scenario, amino acids could be appropriate. In order to do this, we develop diets that are deficient in those specific amino acids.”
According to Parikh, a significant portion of Faeth’s objective is to utilize this cash to broaden and deepen study in this field.
Diet and health are strongly intertwined, and nutrition does have an influence on the fate of cancer patients and survivors. However, this is a field of study that might elicit some well-deserved suspicion from the public. Especially when it comes to nutrition and health, it may be quite simple to slip from scientific truth into mythical land. It is important to note that this study does not advocate for a “wonder diet” or a “diet-based cure” for cancer. Instead, the business hopes to learn more about how nutrition may be used as a “fifth pillar” of cancer treatment via scientific investigation.
For the time being, Faith is preparing for three clinical studies that will examine the relationship that has emerged from preclinical research. A clinical study for metastatic pancreatic cancer that will combine a decreased amino acid diet with a gemcitabine and nab-paclitaxel chemotherapy regimen is currently in the early stages of planning. In addition, the business is conducting another clinical study for metastatic colorectal cancer. Finally, according to Parikh, a clinical study on insulin-suppressing diets will be launched on clinicaltrials.gov in the coming weeks.
Should the relationship prove strong enough to merit treatment, Parikh envisions a cancer-care model in which high-quality meals (such as the aforementioned Pad Thai) and cancer medications might work together to generate better results for patients. In this scenario, a patient would still undergo radiation or chemotherapy, but would be able to go home and have doctor-prescribed meals brought to their door (Parikh points out that the meals have been created by “world-class chefs.” In the event that any problems develop, the patient would consult with a nutritionist.
However, for the time being, Parikh explains, the emphasis will be almost totally on advancing this study to the clinical phase.
“They’ve completed as much pre-clinical work as they possibly can, and so we’ve raised this round to allow them to advance into the clinic.” Furthermore, “we’re doing early-stage studies to check safety first and foremost, but we’re also looking to see if there’s any evidence of effectiveness as well,” he adds.