Matthias D’Huyvetter and Precirix are developing a radioactive medicine for cancer
Precirix is developing CAM-H2 with radioactively marked antibodies to track down and treat cancer cells and metastases more quickly without affecting healthy tissue. In 2009, Matthias D’Huyvetter was a Ph.D student as this technology was born.
Antibody fragments from camelids
At present, conventional cancer therapies such as surgery and external radiotherapy damage healthy tissue and are only suitable for use on larger tumours. Chemotherapy also affects healthy tissue. CAM-H2 tracks down cancer cells and small metastases, immediately fighting them. It is effective in fighting different cancers, including breast cancer and stomach cancer.
CAM-H2 is the first product from the Brussels-based company Precirix. It is a protein, originating from camelids and linked to radioactive material that is brought into the bloodstream.
One benefit of Precirix’s CAM-H2 radioactive antibody fragment is that, via the circulatory system, it can reach every cancer cell in the body while leaving healthy tissue alone.
Exactly why are antibody fragments from camelids used? Matthias D’Huyvetter explains: ‘It’s because they behave in a fantastic way in the human body. Thanks to their specific properties, they spread quickly in the body and stimulate or stop certain functions. These antibodies are also being used in the fight against, for example, the coronavirus and muscular diseases. We use the proteins purely as a means of transport. As well as CAM-H2, we are also working on new radioactively marked antibody fragments that track down and treat other types of cancer.’
Camel-IDS, a spin-off of the VUB
Matthias D’Huyvetter has been involved with the research since 2009. He started as a Ph.D student in the VUB lab of Tony Lahoutte, working at the time on radioactively marked antibody fragments for cancer treatments. Matthias also worked for a year at Duke University in the United States, before establishing Camel-IDS in 2014 as a VUB spin-off and the forerunner of Precirix. ‘I’ve always been fascinated by medical research and its effects on the human body. The research may take years, but the goal is to be able to fight difficult-to-treat cancer metastases in patients.’
An uplifting start: from researcher to entrepreneur
‘The early years were unbelievably uplifting. Precirix, which was known as Camel-IDS at the time, was started by five VUB researchers and a business developer. We came together almost every day to discuss the progress. In the first few years, we received financial support from Innoviris, the Foundation Fournier-Majoie and a group of business angels, successfully taking large steps forward on minimal budgets. It went so quickly that we were suddenly not just researchers, but also entrepreneurs and marketeers.’
A capital injection of 37 million euro
The spin-off needed investors and management to professionalise and perform major clinical research. In 2019, Matthias received an Executive Master of Business Administration from the Antwerp Management School. Ruth Devenyns came on board as CEO. And the team grew steadily. In 2018, Precirix, still known as Camel-IDS, brought in 37 million euro in investment capital – a genuine milestone. The group of investors expanded, with six more national and international players. There are now 30 people working for the company.
Large-scale clinical research
In 2016, the researchers rounded off the first clinical study phase for examining the potential efficacy of CAM-H2. And at this time, with the approval of the American Food and Drug Administration, a major clinical study began in hospitals in Canada, the United States, and, in a later phase, in Belgium and its neighbouring countries. Precirix expected that they would be able to bring the treatment to the market this decade with clinically proven efficacy.
Aiko Gryspeirt, Scientific Advisor at Innoviris: ‘Brussels is a breeding ground for everything to do with life sciences. And in our region, Precirix is a top player in biotechnology. Because, with the large number of hospitals and a location so close to the VUB mothership, the capital is an ideal habitat. Innoviris has followed and supported Precirix for years and their trajectory is textbook perfect. It started as a Ph.D research assignment, expanded into a spin-off, grew through capital injection, and now has internationally validated research. We are proud that we, as loyal supporters, have been able to witness it.’
Search for added value for cancer patients
I had previously done research into HIV, a complex virus that is regularly proves to be too fast for science,’ says Matthias D’Huyvetter. ‘Fighting cancer is also an unbelievable challenge. I’m now part of something that will – hopefully – deliver enormous added value for cancer patients. The first results are very promising in any case. Because in these first research phases, our CAM-H2 has done exactly what it is supposed to do. That gives me the energy to keep pushing forward day after day.
Are you looking for partners or investors in science and technology in Brussels? Do you need access to a lab? Innoviris is the place to go: we finance research institutions and companies that collaborate on R&D projects. Innoviris guides you on your way and puts you in contact with others. One more tip: we launch a new call at the beginning of every year.