Drug-carrying bacteria are magnetically guided to the center of tumors
LClinical trials of a potentially breakthrough cancer treatment, the only one of its kind in the world, are set to begin later this year or early 2023 in a newly built laboratory that was inaugurated at the JGH.
Following a press conference at the Hospital on June 20, Pierre Fitzgibbon, Minister of Economy and Innovation, was among those who toured the new facility within the Radiation Oncology Division Hospital, where this unique treatment will be tested.
A process, developed in collaboration with Montreal-based Starpax Biopharma, injects bacteria (known as magnetodrones) carrying cancer drugs directly into the tumour.
Since magnetodrones are sensitive to magnetism, their movements can be controlled through a magnetic field generated by Starpax’s PolarTrak device. Patients lie on a flat surface in the device, at the focal point of a large ring, the interior of which is fitted with five cylindrical elements.
The cylinders, which are pointed at the patient’s tumor, simultaneously generate a magnetic field that guides the magnetodrones to a precise location in the tumor. In addition, to keep the magnetdrones in place, the PolarTrak device displays their positions in 3D.
Then, the magnetodrones release the anti-cancer drugs into the tumor, and saturate a hypoxic (low oxygen) location that would have been difficult to reach through conventional treatments.
Because this type of therapy does not require the drugs to circulate through the bloodstream, the patient does not experience prolonged exposure to chemicals or radiation, the side effects of which can often be physically exhausting and emotionally debilitating. .
Participants in the clinical trials are expected to be selected later this year. The first studies will focus on six types of cancer, namely cancer of the pancreas, prostate, head and neck, rectum, vulva and cutaneous metastases including recurrence of breast cancer.
Even if the process eventually realizes its potential and is approved by the relevant health organizations, it will not be ready for general use for several years.
This Starpax initiative was developed through a multi-year collaboration between the provincial government, the JGH (the Segal Cancer Centre, the Lady Davis Institute and the JGH Foundation), Polytechnique Montreal, the Quebec cancer program and private partners, including Starpax Biopharma and Montreal’s TransMedTech Institute.
During the press conference, Mr. Fitzgibbon announced that the government had granted funding of up to $7 million for this $8.7 million project; these funds will be used to cover the cost of building and equipping the PolarTrak room. The rest of the funding will be provided by the JGH Foundation.
“The potential benefits of the Jewish General Hospital project bear witness to the importance of providing the necessary levers to our companies and our research centres. »
Dr. Lawrence Rosenberg, President and CEO of the CIUSSS du Centre-Ouest-de-l’Île-de-Montréal (in which the JGH plays a central role) considers clinical trials to be “a major offensive in the fight against cancer”, different from anything that has been attempted elsewhere in the world.
He underlined that this project “fits perfectly into the general strategy of our CIUSSS, which consists of placing greater emphasis on the use, and especially on the active development of new forms of technology to meet the needs of patients”.
Dr. Rosenberg further explains that because the eventual treatment will be personalized to meet the medical requirements of each patient, “this project is in line with our CIUSSS’s approach of making the needs of patients and health care users a priority. absolute”.
The JGH and other CIUSSS facilities have long provided “more than health care and social services to their own clientele. They have chosen to play a larger and more ambitious role as innovators, from which the entire population of Montreal, Quebec and elsewhere could benefit”.
“This philosophy has been integrated into our CIUSSS. Our goal is to help everyone, everywhere beat cancer as effectively as possible, while making the treatment itself more tolerable. »
The need for new and more effective cancer treatments has become even more urgent due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has caused significant delays in the diagnosis and initiation of treatment for this disease, said Dr. Gerald Batist , Director of the Segal Cancer Center.
This is why, he added, collaboration is essential between the different facilities and private sector companies, and what is illustrated in this case by “a perfect blend of engineering, biology and medicine”.
Later in an interview, Dr. Batist explained that during the first phase of clinical trials, researchers will work with patients whose cancerous tumors are advanced and difficult to treat through conventional means, but who have not still spread throughout the body.
Of particular interest, he notes, will be determining the safety of the treatment, its potential side effects and the effectiveness of the therapy on the different types of specific cancers.
“We have turned to science and innovation to deal with the pandemic, and we will have to do the same to deal with the sharp rise in cancer cases that are one of the consequences of the pandemic,” said the Dr Battist.