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Can Chemotherapy-Induced Nerve Damage Be Prevented Without Diluting the Drug's Cancer-Killing Abilities?

Get to know ethoxyquin, one of the inaugural Thalheimer Fund recipients
Posted April 25, 2016

The team behind ethoxyquin received one of the three inaugural Thalheimer Fund grants from Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures.

What:

Ethoxyquin, an antioxidant compound that may prevent nerve degeneration in chemotherapy patients

Why:

Nearly 80 percent of patients treated with Taxol, a common chemotherapy drug used against breast, ovarian, and other cancers, experience peripheral neuropathy — a debilitating pain that can range from numbness and tingling in the hands and feet to full-on paralysis. "We're helping cancer patients live longer," says Ahmet Hoke, MD, PhD, a professor of neurology and neuroscience, "but we're also making them miserable." Ethoxyquin could become a drug oncologists prescribe alongside chemotherapy to mitigate or prevent those adverse side effects.

How it works:

With support from a National Institutes of Health grant, Hoke and his team spent years testing about 2,000 different compounds to determine how they interacted with a nerve cell line treated with Taxol. They discovered ethoxyquin and one of its analogs, ethoxyquin derivative 6, slowed and even prevented the cells from damage.

Who:

Hoke; Weiran Chen, MD, research associate, Department of Neuroscience, School of Medicine; Jing Zhu, postdoctoral fellow, Department of Neuroscience, School of Medicine

What’s next:

"When you talk about all the things a pharmaceutical company would do to bring a drug to market, it’s a minimum of $1 million to $2 million to go from a candidate drug to the next step. And NIH funding does not support that," says Hoke, a 2006 alumnus of the Carey Business School's Graduate Certificate in Leadership and Management in the Life Sciences program. And although the Thalheimer funding can't provide quite that level of support, it is helping Hoke take ethoxyquin one more step toward FDA approval by developing a clinical-grade drug that can be tested.