It is said of some cancers, such as prostate, that you often die with them, not of them. Cancers and other diseases too, including heart problems, HIV and liver failure, bring with them wasting or cachexia.

The wasting affects not only skeletal muscle, but other vital organs and the patient dies from the wasting, not the root illness. About 40 per cent of cancer patients die from cachexia.

Cancer treatments for oncology or solid tumours have long been researched and developed and are a key focus for scientists. Drugs can be effective in controlling or sometimes eliminating cancers. The problem is that as the cancer progresses, it mutates to become drug resistant.

PsiOxus Therapeutics, fresh into new premises at Milton Park, is developing a treatment for cachexia and a virus-based therapy for oncology.

Established in 2010, the company is a merger between Myotec, an Imperial College spinout, and Hybrid Biosystems, formerly based at the Cherwell Innovation Centre at Upper Heyford.

PsiOxus chief executive Dr John Beadle was entrepreneur in residence at Imperial College. He helped to establish Myotec and became its chief executive in 2008.

Simultaneously, he was chairman and chief executive of Hybrid and under his leadership, the two organisations were brought together.

“Our cachexia drug MT-102 will be in Phase II clinical trials until the end of this year,” said Dr Beadle. “It will be an oral treatment, probably twice daily pills. Wasting during a chronic disease points to a low chance of survival.”

The cancer treatment, ColoAd1, is in a totally different arena of complex biologicals and employs viruses to attack solid tumours. It follows the research of Dr Len Seymour and Dr Kerry Fisher of the former Hybrid Biosystems. Their original studies, which are still active, involved coating a therapeutic virus in polymer.

This allowed the virus to pass through the body without affecting any part of the system until it reached its intended target.

ColoAd1 adapts living things to make druggable oncolytic viruses. A large number of these viruses are mixed randomly and introduced into the vascular system.

The mix is known as chimeric, meaning a composition of parts that are of different origin and seemingly incompatible. What is key is that while most viruses are unstable in human blood, the PsiOxus viruses are exactly the opposite.

To form and grow, a tumour needs blood, oxygen and nutrients like glucose, so it attaches itself to the body’s systems.

So anything in the bloodstream will pass into or through the tumour. The virus mix will remain in the vascular system because there are no routes for them to escape but in the tumour, it is a different matter.

The vascular system of a tumour is chaotic and weak, with fenestrations, or windows, through which the virus mix can escape and accumulate in the tumour’s cells.

The viruses are replication competent, they need to replicate and amplify to be effective.

This they do, attacking and killing abnormal cells, but ignoring the normal ones. Even better, it is the cancerous cells themselves that actually select those viruses that are the most lethal to attack them.

Dr Beadle explained: “Cancers evolve and mutate. As they evolve, so they become more drug resistant. The beauty of ColoAd1 is that as the evolution progresses, the more potent the treatment becomes.”

The ColoAd1 viruses are missing certain parts and find those missing parts in the cancer cells, so increasing potency.

It has been known for some time that certain cancerous cells are in effect stem cells, capable of forming new tumours elsewhere and leading to metastasis. Metastatic tumours can be of any size and lie anywhere in the body, so tracking and eliminating metastasis can be almost impossible.

ColoAd1 helps to prevent the problem and reduces the number of cancer cells circulating in the bloodstream.

The company’s initial targets are colorectal and ovarian cancers and Phase II clinical trials are imminent. The treatment will be multiple doses of the virus mix over a period of time.

PsiOxus is also using this technology to investigate vaccines against cancers.

These are termed autologous or personalised medicine. Part of the patient’s tumour is extracted, treated and returned to the system as the vaccine to excite exactly the right immune response. We all have different immune responses, so a one size fits all approach is likely to be less effective.

The company moved into its new, purpose-built premises at the beginning of April. It employs 22 staff made up of biological scientists and physicians and there is space for 45.

Funding is from Imperial Innovations, Invesco Perpetual and the Mercia Fund. A second round of funding will be closed this year to finance the clinical trials.

Once trials are complete, PsiOxus will be seeking partners to co-develop MT-102 and ColoAd1 and take them to market. Contact: 07810 770310 Web: