This article was written by Raconteur for The Times’ Combatting Cancer publication on 30th June 2021
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Cancer treatment has come a long way, but there are still challenges in delivering life-saving drugs to patients without compromising their health in other ways. Innovative breakthroughs in pharmaceutical technology, however, could be changing the game
Since the first cancer therapies evolved from World War I mustard gas in the 1940s, scientists have brought us increasingly effective (and expensive) cancer drugs, culminating in latest generation blockbusters like Keytruda, Opdivo and Avastin. Most chemotherapy drugs are, however, dose limited, because they are also toxic to healthy cells and organs.
An innovative UK biotech has devised novel techniques to take drugs directly to the tumour where they are needed. Higher doses of drug can be delivered over a controlled period, resulting in more of the drug in the tumour and less of the drug circulating in the body.
Midatech Pharma - a fusion of science, engineering and pharmaceutical development – has created a suite of breakthrough technologies that provide precision targeting of medicines to the tumour site. Its unique drug delivery platforms are also energising prospects for rare brain cancers that are traditionally hard to treat because most drugs will not cross the protective blood-brain barrier.
Midatech Pharma’s Q-Sphera microtechnology encapsulates medicine in biodegradable polymer microspheres that can be injected to a specific site in the tumour and programmed to release their payload over time to destroy a cancer from within.
Its Midasolve technology makes inherently insoluble drugs soluble so they can be administered in liquid form directly into tumours via a pump and catheter system. Around 12,000 new brain cancers are diagnosed every year in the UK, according to Cancer Research UK, but treating them presents huge problems, with drugs unable to pass through the blood-brain barrier and reach their target.
Midatech Pharma is deploying its Midasolve technology to advance clinical trials of MTX110, a novel formulation of the drug panobinostat, which is normally administered as an oral tablet for multiple myeloma.
“It is not useful in oral form for treating brain cancers because not enough of the drug can get to the brain, but Midasolve makes that possible,” said Stephen Stamp, CEO of Cardiff-based Midatech Pharma that was established in 2000 and was publicly listed on AIM in 2014 and on NASDAQ in 2015.
“It is an ineffective drug with a maximum dose of 20mg when given orally, but we can deliver concentrations tens of thousands times higher, directly into the tumour, while also minimising its exposure to healthy tissue, providing hope of improved outcomes for patients with rare brain cancers such as Diffuse Intrinsic Pons Glioma and Glioblastoma Multiforme”.
The Q-Sphera and MidaSolve platforms provide clinicians with new, effective ways to treat cancer - including the ability to tackle brain cancers as they circumvent the blood-brain barrier – and activate the potential of a range of drugs to be considered for oncology.
“Our technologies improve the biodelivery and biodistribution of medicines and open up great opportunities for healthcare systems, drug developers and patients,” added Stamp.
“The benefits for the patients are fewer hospital visits, fewer side effects and potentially greater efficacy with higher doses. People don’t just want to live for treatment; they want to live while having treatment and our technologies help them do that by reducing those side effects that have adverse impact on quality of life.”
Many of the latest generation cancer drugs are biologics or monoclonal antibodies. Midatech Pharma recently scored a major breakthrough by devising a process to encapsulate a monoclonal antibody (mAb) in its Q-Sphera technology, so that these powerful biologic products can be delivered as long-acting injectable formulations, providing benefits for patients, physicians and payors. Global sales of mAbs amounted to $154bn in 2020.
“Our proprietary technologies can result in significant savings for healthcare systems, provide clinicians with access to an arsenal of drugs to treat cancer and give patients, particularly in rare brain cancers, improved treatment options and better quality of life,” added Stamp.