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MD Anderson to Advance Laser Immunotherapy

Green laser beams

(SD-Pictures, Pixabay)

4 June 2020. An experimental cancer treatment that uses lasers to activate drugs that invoke the immune system is being evaluated by MD Anderson Cancer Center. The Houston-based cancer center, part of the University of Texas system, is collaborating on the project with Rakuten Medical Inc. in San Mateo, California, developer of the technology, although financial details of the partnership were not disclosed.

Rakuten Medical is a biotechnology company developing precision cancer treatments with a process called photoimmunotherapy, where a light-sensitive chemical known as a photosensitizer is combined with synthetic antibody that seeks out and binds only to specific biomarkers expressed by the tumor cells. The combination of photosensitizer and antibody is infused in the patient, where it’s taken up by the tumors. After the infusion is absorbed, surgeons attach thin optical fibers to the tumors and send near-infrared laser beams to the sites marked by the photosensitizers. Energy from the lasers expands the targeted tumor cells while weakening the cell walls, causing the tumor cells to burst and destroy.

The company, then known as Aspyrian Therapeutics, licensed the technology from National Cancer Institute, targeting epidermal growth factor receptors often expressed on the surface of tumors in head and neck cancers. The company’s lead product, code-named ASP-1929, contains a combination of cetuximab, an engineered antibody approved by FDA to treat head and neck cancers, and a fluorescent dye designed to combine with antibodies for photoimmunotherapy.

Rakuten Medical reported on an early- and mid-stage clinical trial testing RM-1929, an earlier code-name for the treatment, in patients with head and neck cancer at the 2019 meeting of European Society for Medical Oncology. MD Anderson was one of the clinical trial sites.

The results show in most patients receiving RM-1929, the therapy induces the programmed-death ligand-1, or PD-L1, pathway needed for immunotherapy and also show signs of activating innate and adaptive immunity, while maintaining epidermal growth factor receptors. However, 17 of the 41 participants experienced at least one serious adverse reaction during the trial, with five of those adverse events linked to the therapy.

In the new agreement, MD Anderson and Rakuten Medical will study the company’s platform, called Illuminox, to help plan for future clinical trials. Those studies are expected to cover study designs, combination therapies, and target patient populations. The collaboration also aims to expand use of the technology beyond its current focus on head and neck cancers.

“The Illuminox technology represents a new form of therapy with the potential to selectively target cancer cells while sparing surrounding normal tissues through light-activatable antibody-dye conjugates,” says Jeffrey Myers, chair of head and neck surgery at MD Anderson in a statement. “We are pleased to build upon our collaborative relationship with Rakuten Medical to work toward bringing investigational treatment options forward with the goal of providing the best options for our patients.”

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