Driving nano-based approaches closer to the clinic: Vall d’Hebron leads pilot study to assess the efficacy of nanoparticles against pancreatic cancer

Teresa Macarulla
  • The Horizon 2020 funded NoCANTher European Consortium*, coordinated by IMDEA Nanociencia, rolls out the clinical phase of the project.
  • The pilot trial, designed and developed by Teresa Macarulla, Medical Oncologist and Principal Investigator of the Vall d’Hebron Institute of Oncology (VHIO) -under the direction of Josep Tabernero- represents an important forward step in ringing in nanotechnology-based therapies at the clinical level.
  • This multi-center undertaking, also counting on the expertise of the CIBBIM-Nanomedicine Group at the Vall d’Hebron Research Institute (VHIR), focuses on the development of magnetic nanoparticles and magnetic hyperthermia for the intra-tumoral treatment of locally advanced pancreatic cancer.

Barcelona, February 25, 2021.- Nano-based drug delivery and anti-cancer therapy have shown promise in recent years as potential novel weaponry in the current arsenal of anti-cancer technologies. Nano-driven therapeutics involves the utilization of nanoparticles that can potentially better target and more precisely combat cancer cells.

While many studies reported in the literature have advanced the underlying technology towards developing powerful nanomedicines, few have successfully been translated to the clinic thus far. Nevertheless, an increasing body of accumulated evidence validating the effectiveness of nanomedicine approaches for the treatment of cancer provides optimism that they will ultimately improve outcomes for certain patient populations.

Figure 1. Magnetic nanoparticles are implanted in the tumor, and heated by exposure to an alternating magnetic field, which improves the effectiveness of the chemotherapy used. Image courtesy of IMDEA for the NoCanTher project.

Specifically, there is a crucial need to seek out and validate new treatment approaches for patients with unresectable, locally advanced pancreatic cancer since chemotherapy is the only therapeutic option available. Considering that this patient population accounts for 20% of all pancreatic cancer cases and that these patients have a 5-year survival rate at 5%, new approaches must be sought in order to potentiate chemotherapy and improve clinical outcomes.

The European Horizon 2020 NoCanTher multi-center Consortium, which launched back in 2016, is powered by eleven European partners including the Vall d’Hebron Institute of Oncology (VHIO) and Vall d’Hebron Institute of Research (VHIR), Vall d’Hebron Barcelona Hospital Campus, Barcelona, Spain, and leads the testing and development of magnetic nanoparticles for the treatment of locally advanced pancreatic cancer.

When exposed to an electromagnetic field, these nanoparticles generate hyperthermia and destroy tumor cells. This novel strategy, in combination with chemotherapy, is expected to inactivate cancer cells and achieve tumor shrinkage. The intracellular delivery promises to reduce the adverse effects associated with chemotherapy.

Building on the preclinical successes reported by the former European Commission FP7-funded Multifun Consortium, the NoCanTher partners are driving the preclinical proof-of-concept evidenced in animal models closer to the clinic. As such, this present project has now initiated a pilot clinical study designed and developed by VHIO.

“Using this novel approach, we seek to alter the characteristics of the tumor and control disease locally. It is a pilot study; a step forward that will open new therapeutic options for patients with locally advanced pancreatic cancer, for whom there are no other treatment options available except chemotherapy”, observes Teresa Macarulla, Principal Investigator of VHIO’s Gastrointestinal & Endocrine Tumors Group and Medical Oncologist at the Vall d’Hebron University Hospital (HUVH), who leads the clinical study.

The clinical trial is based on the results obtained in the preclinical phase of NoCanTher, throughout which VHIR’s CIBBIM-Nanomedicine de Drug Delivery and Targeting Group, led by Simo Schwartz Jr., played a key role. Carried out in collaboration with Resonant Circuits Limited (RCL), London, England, the team focused on developing iron magnetic nanoparticles that generate hyperthermia and kill tumor cells.

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