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LEAF at ASCO: Rwandan researcher develops a new cancer drug

by Julius Bizimungu, The New Tijmes, Kigali, June 11, 2020

L.E.A.F. Pharmaceuticals’ latest anti-cancer drug, LEAF-1401, has proven to be 80 times more effective in humans compared to the existing drugs for lung and colorectal cancer diseases, the company said this week.

The company’s lead anticancer product was presented at this year’s Annual Meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), the world’s largest cancer conference, held from May 29 - 31.

LEAF officials said that treatment with LEAF-1401 exposes the tumour to 20-times more than conventional existing drugs, which paves way for the new drug to be launched on the market for use.

Dr. Clet Niyikiza, LEAF’s Founder and Chief Executive Officer told The New Times that the latest drug is more effective than more conventional drugs at the market including Alimta, one of the leading backbone chemotherapies for lung cancer in the world.

“Our new drug LEAF-1401 demonstrates perfect capability of hitting lung and colorectal cancers with a punch that is 80-fold more powerful than the currently worldwide approved drug Alimta,” he said.

Alimta is an anticancer drug that was developed under joint patents of late Professor Ted Taylor at Princeton University and Dr. Niyikiza when he was a Lilly Senior Research Fellow at Eli Lilly and Company, 23 years ago.

LEAF-1401 is one of the four new generations of cancer drugs that received positive feedback from the US Food and Drug Administration (US FDA) in 2018, allowing initiation of a first-in-human clinical trial and a possible registration path for the drug.

Dr. Niyikiza sees the selection of LEAF-1401 by the ASCO Science Committee for presentation at this year’s annual meeting as a milestone in the recognition, by world’s leading cancer experts, of the future role this new product is expected to play in the treatment of cancer. “We are getting ready to treat patients with LEAF-1401 toward the end of this year,” he told this publication.

LEAF received positive feedback from the US FDA for three other new generation cancer drugs in 2018, and Dr. Niyikiza said at the time that clinical trials could take between 2-5 years depending on the strength of the clinical results before they can be registered officially

It was expected to take somewhere between $100 and $200 million to get the job done, and clinical trials were to be conducted in Mass General Hospital in Boston, Institut Gustave Roussy in Paris and Karolinska in Sweden. Dr. Niyikiza told this publication that the laboratory infrastructure and human expertise at LEAF US facility, where the first research on these drugs was carried out, was planned to be duplicated in Rwanda. Dr. Niyikiza is a Rwandan scientist who founded L.E.A.F. Pharmaceuticals in 2014. Since launching operations in August 2014, L.E.A.F. has filed over 85 patent applications to protect its intellectual property.

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