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One milestone after another: Pleco Therapeutics hopes to bring improved cancer treatment to market soon

Acute Myeloid Leukaemia (AML) and Small-Cell Lung Cancer (SCLC) are rare diseases, they occur in fewer than one in 2,000 people. For many pharmaceutical companies, this is a reason to not invest in the development of new drugs or treatments. “But not Pleco Therapeutics”, says Gerben de Rijk. The company’s lawyer explains how Pleco is developing oncological medicines in the hope of bringing them to the market soon. “The meaningful aspect of our work is what drives us.”

The urgency of their work

Even though the diseases are rare, the need for more suitable treatments is high. “AML often occurs later in life. Sadly, most people who receive the diagnosis are no longer with us two years down the road. That is insanely fast. The same goes for SCLC; the life span after diagnosis is often very short”, Gerben explains. In addition, chemotherapy treatments only work in 20% of patients. “Scientists from an American cancer research centre discovered that the lack of success of the treatments is due to pollution on a cellular level. This inhibits the effect of chemotherapy.”

The good news is that chemotherapy works better once this contamination is resolved. “We are now collaborating with the research centre”, Gerben says with hope in his voice. “For about two years, they have been conducting trials with patients in America. So far, the trials have shown that chemotherapy works much better when combined with our treatment. We are in the process of investigating whether the cancer cells we are targeting have totally disappeared. We are very hopeful.”

A global team

Pleco Therapeutics first settled in Noord-Brabant, following the receipt of a start up financing . In early 2021, they received funding from regional development fund OostNL and relocated to the Novio Tech Campus in Nijmegen. “Now we are also close to the Radboud UMC. Eventually, we would like to collaborate with them on future research or set up a lab for the development of medicine. But those are long term goals”, says Gerben. “Novio Tech Campus could play an important role in setting up our own lab. It might even prove to be the perfect location for it.”

“The Novio Tech Campus network will also benefit us in the future. And of course, we meet once a week in our office at the Campus: that is extremely important.” By ‘we’, Gerben means himself and the CEO, Ivo. “Our colleagues Dan and Rudi live and work in Israel and the south of France. At the start of 2020, we met at Schiphol and agreed to meet physically once every six weeks. Of course, that didn’t work out due to Covid restrictions. Fortunately, at the end of 2021, we were able to go to the American research centre for a week. It was good to spend a whole week together: working together in one room still beats everything.”

Milestones

Still, Pleco Therapeutics is thriving in online meetings as well. “We have some great research assignments in Israel and England, so, the work just keeps on going. For the coming year, we have talks planned with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the European Marketing Agency (EMA), both are important organisations that approve new drugs. “These are crucial milestones for us: they bring us a significant step closer to bringing our treatment to the market. That’s what makes our work so meaningful. We now know that what we have here, works. We just need to get it to the market so that patients in need can start benefiting from it.”

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