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Vancouver Lab Hopes E. Coli Treatment Could Help Cure Crohn’s Disease

By September 27, 2018No Comments

VANCOUVER—Doctors at a Vancouver lab are developing a treatment for Crohn’s disease that they say could lead to a permanent cure — and it all began when a pancreatic cancer patient made a mysterious recovery.

The second phase of trials are currently underway in B.C. and Ontario. Dr. Hal Gunn, professor and founder of biotech company Qu Biologics, said that the results from the first phase have shown surprising promise. Seven of the 12 patients went into remission after treatment was stopped, and three are still in remission — evidence of the possibility of a cure, he said.

“We believe it has the potential to be transformative in Crohn’s disease,” Gunn said. “We have the potential here to create sustained remission or even a cure, for patients who have gone off the medication.”

Affecting one in 150 Canadians, Crohn’s disease is a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that can cause abdominal pain, diarrhea and bloating and can be debilitating to some patients. The disease is caused by an immune disorder, and many patients must take immune-suppressing medications for life in order to control the disease, sometimes leading to negative side effects.

The idea for the new medication came about unexpectedly. At the InspireHealth cancer care centre, which Gunn also founded, he noticed a curious occurrence: a patient with pancreatic cancer who seemed to be getting sicker and sicker — until they came down with an infection. Then the tumours surprisingly shrank.

They discovered that the patient was one of three people whose cancer spontaneously regressed following an infection and fever. This was an indicator that causing an immune response could help restore the function of the immune system and fight disease — and Dr. Gunn began to look into other illnesses that could benefit from the discovery.

“It is a very different way of thinking about treating the disease,” said Gunn. “We think we’ve discovered the underlying mechanism.”

Gunn said the treatment works similar to vaccines, by forcing the immune system into a beneficial response.

The new Crohn’s drug is derived from “a component of E. coli,” which is used to prompt an immune response in the gut. Called QBECO SSI (Site Specific Immunomodulators), the treatment is intended to restore normal immune function and ideally reverse the chronic inflammation causing Crohn’s. The drug comes in an injectable form that is self-administered every two days.

While the first phase of the clinical trial has shown good results, other IBD experts warn patients not to expect a cure to hit the market any time soon, as many trials can initially show positive results.