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Imran Alibhai, Ph.D., is the CEO of Tvardi Therapeutics, a biopharmaceutical company developing breakthrough medicines for diverse cancers, chronic inflammatory diseases and fibrotic diseases. The National Foundation for Cancer Research and AIM-HI Accelerator Fund have been early financial supporters of the innovative start-up.
Tvardi is developing small molecule inhibitors to STAT3, a gene that provides instructions for making the proteins involved in chemical signaling pathways within cells. This gene is an important transcription factor that mediates a variety of disease pathways, including fibrosis and cancer.
“About 70 percent of cancer cells have constitutively active or hyperactive STAT3, so it’s been a target people have been going after for probably over a decade,” Alibhai says.
The gene also regulates myelin suppression, which prevents cancer-fighting T-cells from working.
“Myelin suppression is basically what inhibits the T-cells from working, and so that’s probably why 75 percent of patients who are on the newest therapy, the anti-PD-1s, don’t actually have effectiveness—so it really has a dual mechanism,” he explains.
Tvardi is targeting hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), among other forms of cancer.
The incidence of liver cancer has tripled over the past three decades. Currently, more than 40,000 patients per year are diagnosed with HCC in the U.S. Unfortunately, over 30,000 people will die of the disease.
Summarizes Alibhai: “At the end of the day, my job and our job at the company is to get our drug into the hands of the many patients that need it, which will hopefully have some clinical benefit and change the landscape of how cancer is treated for people with no other options.”