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Xiaoyang Qi, PhD, Professor of Medicine and Co-Division Chief for Basic Science Research at the UC Cancer Institute, discovered a small particle with the potential to make a huge impact. In 2002, while studying Gaucher disease at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, Qi discovered a combination of a lysosomal protein, saposin C (SapC), and a phospholipid that, assembled into tiny cavities, or nanovesicles, can kill many forms of cancer while leaving healthy cells unaffected. The molecule was licensed to Bexion Pharmaceuticals in 2006 and turned into a drug called BXQ-350. 

Over the years, Qi has continued working with Dr. Ray Takigiku, President and CEO of Bexion Pharmaceuticals to develop BXQ-350. In 2011, Qi came to UC College of Medicine to help prepare for an adult phase I clinical trial. The phase I trial began in 2016, and the researchers have since moved on to phase IB. So far, the drug looks promising. The very first trial participant, a patient with brain cancer, is still being treated and is in stable condition. 

“We do basic research, and Xiaoyang Qi, PhD, at UC College of Medicinebasic research is important, but to me, the most important research is how to translate basic research to commercialization,” said Qi. “That’s the best way to help cancer patients.”

At UC College of Medicine, Qi is continuing his BXQ-350 cancer research and supporting the clinical trial led by fellow UC College of Medicine doctor John Morris, MD. Qi works on pre-clinical research and continues looking for ways to improve the drug for future trials.

Currently, Qi is working on two major efforts to improve the efficacy of BXQ-350. One such effort focuses on developing a technology to screen potential participants to determine which patients are more likely to respond to the treatment. Patients with higher target levels are more likely to respond to the drug, so Qi is researching a way to identify target levels in patients’ blood. This precision-medicine approach will increase clinical trial success rates by helping enroll the right patients at the right time. 

Qi is also researching a way to increase drug responses in patients with low target levels. Since BXQ-350 attacks specific targets, patients with more targets have a greater response rate. However, Qi believes there are ways to promote targets in low-target patients. This is especially important in adult patients who naturally have lower target levels than pediatric patients. 

“One of my lifetime goals is helping cancer patients to see if we can treat patients, improve their survival and improve their life quality. That’s the goal for us,” said Qi. 

Moving forward, Qi is excited for phase II and phase III clinical trials. Bexion is also planning a pediatric phase 1 trial to see how younger patients respond to the drug. While phase 1 proved that the drug is safe, the next phases will need to prove the drug’s efficacy. Does it stabilize patients’ conditions? Do tumors respond by shrinking or stopping progression? Those are the questions that Qi and the other researchers need to answer. But as they move into the following clinical trials, they’ll require more money, more participants and more time. 

“It’s a long journey, but I enjoy it as long as we are doing something to help the cancer patients,” said Qi. “That’s major for me.”

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