Novel therapy uncovered at the University of Vermont Cancer Center enters Phase 2 Clinical Study

February 5, 2024 by Kate Strotmeyer

Brian Cunniff, Ph.D.

Since 2017, the Cunniff Lab at the University of Vermont (UVM) Cancer Center with support from industry partner, RS Oncology, has been making significant strides to launch a new therapy for the treatment of mesothelioma. Only two therapies have been approved for the treatment of mesothelioma since 2004, which affects about 3,000 people a year in the United States and approximately 40,000 people worldwide. Linked to occupational asbestos exposure, mesothelioma is an aggressive cancer arising primarily from the outer lining of the lungs with a dismal five-year survival rate of only five to 10 percent. 

Having successfully completed the Phase 1 dose escalation portion of its MITOPE trial (NCT05278975), RS Oncology initiated the successful dosing of the first patient in the Phase 2 dose expansion portion of its United Kingdom multicenter study. This is a significant milestone because access to the treatment expands to patients with malignant plural effusion arising from mesothelioma or other solid tumors (i.e. breast, ovarian, and lung cancers) with metastasis to the pleural space – the small cavity between the lungs and the chest cavity. 

Malignant pleural effusion (MPE), the buildup of fluid in the lining membrane (pleura) of the lungs, is a common clinical symptom in patients with various malignancies (~15% of end-stage cancer patients and ~90% of patients presenting with mesothelioma) and produces significant morbidity in most affected patients.  RSO-021 is a novel, investigational anti-cancer treatment, administered weekly directly into the pleural space following MPE drainage via an indwelling pleural catheter. RSO-021’s anti-cancer activity was uncovered at the UVM Cancer Center and transitioned to clinical testing by RS Oncology. Studies at UVM continue to evaluate the activity of RSO-021 in research settings to best identify patients who can respond to this novel therapy.  

 “This has been an exceptional journey witnessing our bench side research transition to clinical testing. We are thankful for the strides RS Oncology has made to initiate Phase 1 and 2 clinical trials and our continued collaboration with lab of Dr. Dean Fennell at the University of Leicester aimed at identifying patients who will most benefit from this treatment,” says Brian Cunniff, Ph.D. Assistant Professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at the Larner College of Medicine, who leads the research team at UVM supporting this trial. The Cunniff lab in Burlington, Vt is supporting all basic science and translational research associated with this trial. Results from the Phase 1 trial are expected to be presented at an international conference in 2024. 

“We continue to work with the University of Vermont Cancer Center alongside Dr. Cunniff to bring a new treatment to patients with unmet medical needs. RSO-021 is an exciting novel anti-cancer treatment that can potentially help a global population of cancer patients who are left with little to no options,” said Jarrett Duncan, CEO of RS Oncology.  “Commencing the Phase 2 portion of our trial presents a major milestone for patients and their caregivers.”

About RSO-021

RSO-021 is a novel small molecule treatment that irreversibly binds mitochondrial peroxiredoxin 3 (PRX3). Preclinical studies with RSO-021 have shown that inhibition of the antioxidant signaling network results in selective killing of malignant cells by upregulating oxidative stress; in contrast, healthy cells are spared.

About RS Oncology

RS Oncology is a biotechnology company leading scientific discoveries and global collaborations to improve the lives of patients with the most aggressive cancers. The initial focus is to develop our novel therapy for pleural mesothelioma and other cancers with metastatic disease to the lung. Our novel investigational therapy, RSO-021, is currently being evaluated in the Phase 2 portion of the UK-based, multicenter MITOPE study (NCT05278975).  

About the University of Vermont Cancer Center

The University of Vermont Cancer Center is Vermont’s only not-for-profit comprehensive clinical and research cancer center. Founded in 1974, the organization is located within the University of Vermont Larner College of Medicine and enjoys a clinical partnership with the University of Vermont Medical Center. Drawing on the expertise of more than 170 research and clinical members, the center works to reduce the burden of cancer in Vermont, northeastern New York and across northern New England, through research, outstanding clinical care, community outreach, and education.