Treatment using light and deep-sea bacteria kills cancer cells

pharmafile | December 20, 2016 | News story | Medical Communications, Research and Development Vascular-targeted photodynamic therapy 

A technique called vascular-targeted photodynamic therapy (VTP) has been developed that sent 49% of patients suffering from prostate cancer into remission in Phase 3 clinical trials. The novel technique sounds like it could be taken directly from science fiction but holds the potential to treat those suffering from prostate cancer without the serious side-effects commonly suffered from standard treatment.

The treatment works by injecting a drug compound, named WST11, into the blood of patients that allows doctors to effectively target tumour cells in specific locations via laser light. The compound contains bacteria found in deep-sea locations that have evolved to convert light into energy with exceptional efficiency. The drug has been devised to release free-radicals when activated by light that destroys tumour tissue in the prostate.

The experimental treatment was found to be extremely effective, with nearly half of patients going into complete remission compared to 13.5% in the control group. This is such promising news because, presently, the alternative treatment is ‘radical therapy’ which involves surgically removing or irradiating the entire prostate. This particular treatment avenue can have serious, life-changing side-effects, such as erectile problems or incontinence. In comparison, VTP therapy was found to only cause short-term urinary and erectile problems that resolved themselves within three months.

“These results are excellent news for men with early localised prostate cancer, offering a treatment that can kill cancer without removing or destroying the prostate,” says lead investigator Professor Mark Emberton, dean of UCL Medical Sciences and consultant urologist at UCLH. “This is truly a huge leap forward for prostate cancer treatment, which has previously lagged decades behind other solid cancers such as breast cancer. In 1975 almost everyone with breast cancer was given a radical mastectomy, but since then treatments have steady improved and we now rarely need to remove the whole breast. In prostate cancer we are still commonly removing or irradiating the whole prostate, so the success of this new tissue-preserving treatment is welcome news indeed.”

The treatment had 47 different treatment sites across ten European countries, with many performing VTP for the first time. It speaks to the potential of the technology that it displayed such a high efficacy with scientists unused to the treatment.

The treatment approach was developed by scientists at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel in collaboration with STEBA Biotech; the European clinical trials were led by University College London.

Ben Hargreaves

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