Bert Liang, M.D., Ph.D., stepped into the CEO role at Abcentra earlier this year as the company formerly known as CardioVax found itself at a crossroads. The company bills itself as a clinical-stage bio-pharma company that addresses unmet needs in inflammation by targeting oxidized low-density lipoprotein (oxLDL). When Liang stepped in, Abcentra was trying to develop products that addressed atherosclerosis as an inflammatory disease, as opposed to the ages-old characterization of arterial plaque diseases as those caused by lifestyle choices (i.e. poor diet, no exercise, and smoking).
The company’s assertion is that cardiovascular and inflammatory diseases are inextricably linked, and there’s some sound reasoning behind the theory. The company is founded on research from Chief Scientist, Director, and Founder PK Shah, M.D. (Oppenheimer Atherosclerosis Research Center at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center) and Head of Scientific Advisory Board Chairman Jan Nilsson M.D., PhD (Clinical Research Center, Lund University). The pair have spent their lives studying and publishing on heart disease, vascular cell biology, and atherosclerotic research
Liang points to evidence of patients with inflammatory diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, psoriatic arthritis, and SLE (systemic lupus erythematosus) developing accelerated atherosclerosis. “Patients diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis have a 50 percent greater chance of dying of a heart attack,” he says. Recognizing this link, the company focused on the exploration of active immuno (vaccine-based) and passive immuno (monoclonal antibody) therapies.
Within that context, the CANTOS clinical trial took place. That trial tested the very strong anti-inflammatory monoclonal antibody canakinumab to see whether it, combined with the statins that comprise the current standard of care for cardiovascular disease, would improve a patient’s response to adverse cardio events.
“The CANTOS trial found that the monoclonal antibody therapy can knock down inflammation and actually improve patient outcomes by an additional 15 percent over that of the statin alone,” says Liang. “That was powerful, and it suggested that yes, in fact, inflammation matters, and that cardiovascular disease is, at least in part, an inflammatory disease.”