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Beverly pharmaceutical company claims it’s at leading edge of research on new cancer drug

Beverly biopharmaceutical company Cellceutix Corp. on Monday said a cancer drug it is testing in clinical trials is more advanced than similar treatments under development by larger companies that featured in The New York Times Sunday.

Merck & Co., Roche Holding Ltd. and Sanofi SA are working on cancer drugs that would enable a protein called p53 to perform its normal function -- causing badly damaged cells to self-destruct. Cancer cells disable p53, allowing them to multiply, but the drugs would reactivate the protein and kill cancer cells.

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The companies’ research is being hailed by cancer specialists as a possible breakthrough because the resulting drugs could be used to treat many forms of the disease. Most cancer drugs on are effective against only certain types of cancer.

Merck, Roche and Sanofi are not yet testing their drugs in clinical trials against many kinds of cancer but Cellceutix, which was not mentioned in the Times article, said Monday it is already conducting such trials with a p53 drug called Kevetrin at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.

“I believe that a discerning examination of the article and publicly available information shows that we are not only ahead of these larger companies, but we have a better mechanism which is more likely to function against most cancers,” said Cellceutix chief executive Leo Ehrlich. “Our research to date shows that Kevetrin affects both wild and mutant types of p53, a claim that to the best of our understanding, the other companies cannot make.”

Callum Borchers can be reached at callum.borchers@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @callumborchers.
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