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Investing in Our Own: LSU Health Foundation Partners with Oleander Medical Technologies to Combat Advanced-Stage Cancers

“We want to take the meaning of ‘cancer alley’ and redefine it,” said Paige Miller, President and Managing Member of Oleander Medical Technologies. “We would rather it mean that New Orleans and southern Louisiana are the best places to find treatment and cures for invasive cancers.”

Oleander’s efforts to make this goal a reality received major support from LSU Health Foundation (LSUHF). By using unrestricted endowment funds, they invested in the project after rigorous vetting by a strong team of LSU physicians and researchers.

“Cancer Alley” is an area along the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, in the river parishes of Louisiana, filled with industrial plants. Coverage by the news and media about clusters of cancer patients led to the moniker

LSU Health Foundation’s (LSUHF) mission is to support LSU Health New Orleans (LSUHNO). By investing in its own researchers and supporting their innovative efforts to eradicate disease and improve health conditions for every person, they are doing that and more.

“This investment means we support the excellent work they are doing to change lives and make a difference in quality healthcare,” said Matt Altier, LSUHF President and CEO. “Investing in our own medical researchers sends a powerful message that we are excited by what they are investigating and finding.”

Timothy A. Hemphill, LSUHF Chief Financial Officer, explained LSUHF used unrestricted endowed funds to support this project. “These modest investments from our newly formed venture capital pool will and should generate excitement among our board and our donors.  We expect to see a great return over time.”

LSU researchers Dr. Dennis Paul and Dr. Harry J. Gould were not investigating cancer treatments when they discovered Targeted Osmotic Lysis (TOL). Dr. Paul is a Professor of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics; Dr. Gould is a Professor of Neurology and Neuroscience. They were researching why certain pain becomes chronic when they identified how their TOL process helped eradicate cancer cells.

Based on their work, Oleander developed the revolutionary TOL process to treat cancers in advanced stages when there is currently no effective treatment available. Essentially, the process stimulates the opening of a cancer cell’s sodium channels allowing the entry of large amounts of sodium ions in, while at the same time blocking the cancer cell’s ability to pump sodium back out of the cell.  When this happens water enters the cell to dilute any excess sodium in order to make it possible for the cell to continue to function. The water continues to fill the cancer cells until they “burst,” much like an overfilled balloon. Oleander has an animated video of the process, explaining it in detail.

While much cancer research is involved with therapies for early stage treatment of limited number of specific cancers, TOL is showing to be effective in treating several forms of deadly cancer, including prostate, lung, breast and colon, in advanced stages when they are most frequently diagnosed. Importantly, their research shows promise in treating mesothelioma, currently an untreatable cancer.

Next step in securing FDA approval for the process continues to utilize LSU resources: a partnership with the LSU Veterinary School. After purchase of equipment to stimulate the opening of sodium channels and determining the optimal treatment dosage and frequency in mice, the research will move to the school of veterinary medicine to begin treatment of cats and dogs.

Some of the state “right to try” laws will help when Oleander begins clinical trials of TOL in people with advanced cancers who have exhausted all currently available treatment options. Because of the advanced nature of the disease, patients can participate with a physician’s prescription. Ms. Miller explained that, overall, TOL therapy utilizes digoxin, an inexpensive, FDA-approved, generic drug, (cost of the drug for the TOL treatment is estimated to be about $7) and the device utilizes energy similar to that used to generate the images in an MRI. All of this is a cost saving factor to help bring the new therapy to market – and ultimately will mean a cheaper therapy alternative for patients.

 “Oleander’s business plan to provide innovative treatment to individuals suffering from terminal cancers is compelling,” said Mr. Altier. “That this treatment is less costly and less invasive than many therapies aligns with our efforts to help improve healthcare quality and access.”

“LSU Health Foundation’s belief in our work gave us enormous credibility,” said Ms. Miller

“We hope the Foundation’s investment in start-up companies that utilize LSUHNO research, like Oleander, will send a message to the faculty that we support their hard work in a meaningful way,” said Mr. Hemphill. “We also hope it signals to outside investors that LSUHNO is an exciting, innovative way to diversify their portfolios.”