Skip to main content
Premium Trial:

Request an Annual Quote

'Far Bigger than Cancer Vaccines'


Billionaire investor Randall Kirk is so convinced that there's a way to make old chemotherapy drugs less toxic that he's taking a stake in "maverick" biotech company Ziopharm Oncology, says Forbes' Robert Langreth in his Treatments blog. Kirk's synthetic biology company Intrexon is also pushing a novel DNA therapy that Kirk thinks will be "far bigger that cancer vaccines," Langreth says. In an effort to keep the price of cancer treatments low, companies like Ziopharm are trying to reduce the toxic side effects of old chemotherapy drugs and make them more efficient. Its lead drug is called palifosfamide, which is a new version of ifosfamide — a drug currently in use to treat cancer, but is far too toxic for most people, Langreth says. But Kirk's real interest, he adds, is in using synthetic biology to create DNA-based drugs that cause cells to produce tumor-killing chemicals. Intrexon is paying $11.6 million for a 12.5 percent stake, and could increase the stake to 20 percent if Ziopharm brings any DNA-therapy drugs to a second-stage trials, Langreth says, adding that if Intrexon's DNA-based drugs work, then Ziopharm's efforts to reduce the side effects of chemotherapy drugs will be almost insignificant, however "the companies would split the profits on any DNA therapeutic that results."

The Scan

Wolf Howl Responses Offer Look at Vocal Behavior-Related Selection in Dogs

In dozens of domestic dogs listening to wolf vocalizations, researchers in Communication Biology see responses varying with age, sex, reproductive status, and a breed's evolutionary distance from wolves.

Facial Imaging-Based Genetic Diagnoses Appears to Get Boost With Three-Dimensional Approach

With data for more than 1,900 individuals affected by a range of genetic conditions, researchers compared facial phenotype-based diagnoses informed by 2D or 3D images in the European Journal of Human Genetics.

Survey Suggests Multigene Cancer Panel VUS Reporting May Vary Across Genetic Counselors

Investigators surveyed dozens of genetic counselors working in clinical or laboratory settings, uncovering attitudes around VUS reporting after multigene cancer panel testing in the Journal of Genetic Counseling.

Study Points to Tuberculosis Protection by Gaucher Disease Mutation

A mutation linked to Gaucher disease in the Ashkenazi Jewish population appears to boost Mycobacterium tuberculosis resistance in a zebrafish model of the lysosomal storage condition, a new PNAS study finds.