Health Care: Early-Stage Trial Findings Reported at A Recent S.D. Conference
Like a targeted missile, scientists at FeRx Inc. in San Diego are guiding chemotherapy-carrying magnetic particles through the blood vessels directly to cancer tumors to kill them.
By destroying a significant amount of bad cells inside the tumor using magnetic targeted carriers (MTCs), FeRx believes it has created a double-remedy: Using MTCs to deliver chemotherapeutic drugs helps combat disease by keeping the drug inside the tumor, not allowing it to spread throughout the body.
This in turn reduces the debilitating side effects of chemotherapy.
Dr. Scott Goodwin, chief of vascular and interventional radiology at the UCLA Medical Center, described FeRx’s magnetic technology and presented findings of an early-stage trial of 14 patients at a recent conference in San Diego of the Society of Cardiovascular and Interventional Radiology.
According to Goodwin, MTCs , tiny pieces of iron and carbon , are combined with the chemotherapy agent doxorubicin.
The combined drug is delivered via a catheter into a blood vessel which feeds the deadly tumor with otherwise live-sustaining nutrients.
A magnet positioned from the outside of the body directly over the tumor pulls the magnetic particles carrying the anti-cancer drug out of the blood vessel, and feeds it directly into the tumor.
A concentrated dose of the chemotherapy deposited directly in the tumor helps kill more bad cells, Goodwin said. The drug is released gradually over time, increasing the potential for killing more tumor cells, he added.
Of the 14 patients, one saw a reduction in tumor size of more than 50 percent. Two patients saw their tumors reduced between 25 and 50 percent. Five patients stabilized, while the disease progressed in six patients.
Side effects included pain, particularly at the site of treatment, loss of appetite, nausea and fever. None of the patients suffered hair loss.
“The data is very encouraging regarding the safety and tolerability of the product as well as the demonstration of specific targeting and retention of MTC-DOX in tumors,” said Jacqueline Johnson, president and chief executive of FeRx.
Johnson said the study, which is designed to test safety and drug dosage, should be completed by the third quarter.
FeRx is working with the Food and Drug Administration to initiate a second trial during the second quarter of this year.
The trial will test MTCs’ therapeutic effect in patients with a variety of tumors in the liver, Johnson said.
FeRx’s business strategy focuses on clinical trials, Johnson said. Positive data is critical in attracting investors’ interest and increasing shareholders value.
The original technology of magnetic drug delivery was developed by FeRx co-founder and medical adviser Dr. Kenneth Widder and by Dr. Andrew Senyei, a fellow medical student at Northwestern University Medical School in the late 1970s.
Widder was a founder, chairman and CEO of Molecular Biosystems Inc. in San Diego.
FeRx was incorporated in Colorado in 1993. It opened in San Diego in January 1997.
To date, FeRx has 25 employees and received $11.7 million in venture capital funding.
Investor groups include Versant Ventures (formerly Brentwood Venture Capital) of Menlo Park, Jacobs Enterprises and Whittier Ventures in Pasadena, as well as private investors.
Versant Ventures invested $3.5 million in FeRx so far.
“We love the technology,” said Brian Atwood, managing director at Versant Ventures. “The notion of using external magnetic targeted carriers as a way to physically drag the particles to the solid tumors works great.”
He said conventional approaches using particular types of biochemistry or biological features haven’t shown much promise over the last two decades.
Johnson believes MTCs have a wide range of application, such as in gene-therapy and inflammation and infectious disease.
To maximize capital growth, FeRx will not enter partnerships until late-stage clinical trials or once the product is getting ready to hit the market, provided the FDA approves MTC-DOX, Johnson said.