Bringing a medical technology from idea to clinic is not without its challenges. But Dr Declan Soden of the Cork Cancer Research Centre, and founder of Cork-based MitaMed, is navigating the course for the company’s devices, which increase the uptake of drugs into tumours.
The technology behind MitaMed’s approach literally ‘zaps’ tumours to make them more leaky to anti-cancer drugs: a probe applies electrical energy directly to the cells of the tumour and this opens the gates for therapeutic agents to get in and do their work.
The approach, called electroporation, is already used by the Cork Cancer Research Centre to focus drug delivery to skin cancers (such as malignant melanoma) and recurrent breast cancers, and the University College Cork spin-out is now developing the technology for use in the treatment of colorectal and lung cancers.
"The first case report using electro-chemotherapy on skin tumours was published about 20 years ago, but it’s really only in the last seven or eight years that the technology has started to take hold and increase," explains Soden, who is a founder of MitaMed and general manager at the Cork Cancer Research Centre. "Around 100 hospitals in Europe are now specifically using the technology of electro-chemotherapy to treat skin cancers."
MitaMed’s approach has been to develop probes that can target tumours inside the body. The initial target was colorectal tumours, and early human trials with the EndoVe device have shown encouraging results, according to Soden.
"We have treated patients and they have had really good quality of life responses," he says. "The potential here is not limited to treating palliative or end-of-life cases, as we have been doing in the clinical trials."
In practice, he would envisage patients having outpatient treatment using the device, and this could bring down both recovery times and costs when compared to surgical options.
"I would say the technology has the potential to reduce the treatment cost for early stage patients from €30,000 to €5,000," says Soden.
It’s one thing enhancing uptake of the drugs, but the company also has to enhance uptake of the technology in the clinic.
"It’s a challenge for any new technology to gather the necessary clinical evidence to get the adopters on board to get widespread clinical use – you need to have evidence from large clinical trials to support it," says Soden. "Plus the colorectal cancer market is a competitive one."
Recently, MitaMed has been widening its focus to look at the potential for enhancing chemotherapy uptake in lung tumours, and Soden says the company has been getting encouraging results.
"Using the same technology of electroporation, we have developed a probe that allows us to work with the surgeons to target and treat lung cancer," he says. "That is receiving a lot of positive attention clinically from the surgeons."
The ThoraVe probe could be used as part of standard video-assisted keyhole surgery to deliver the electrical energy directly into the lung tumour tissue. "We have a lot of very nice data from preclinical data and large animals about the safety of the procedure," says Soden. "And we are probably 10-12 months away from starting a phase one clinical trial in Ireland."
Opening the channels
Soden is looking ahead of the clinical trials and laying the groundwork with hospitals in Europe where electroporation is already in use, so clinicians are already familiar with the underlying technology.
"We are having meetings and presenting the technology and once we have a reasonable cohort of patients in Dublin and Cork and we publish the data, we should be in a position to have sales," he says.
The potential for electroporation to reduce treatment costs is a positive consideration for many, he notes, and the field has also seen a big player enter the space.
"AngioDynamics is now coming into the market," says Soden. "That definitely focuses the mind for a company of our size – we need to commercialise quickly – but it also helps the validate the approach in that a large company is now using electroporation technology."
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