The Nobel Prize in chemistry this year was awarded to the researchers behind the concept of click chemistry, in which molecules snap together. The newly approved EU project bioSWITCH, coordinated by researchers at Linköping University, will combine click chemistry with the precise delivery of drugs. The long term aim of the project is to develop a new method of treating malignant cancer tumours with more effective drugs while minimizing undesired effetcs.
“An example is pancreatic cancer, which is the deadliest cancer form. This is because it is often impossible to remove the tumour surgically, and the amount of chemotherapy agent required to destroy it is too high. In this case, our solution may be an alternative,” says Johannes Bintinger, principal research engineer in the Laboratory for Organic Electronics at Linköping University.
When treating cancer, the tumour is often removed surgically and the patient then receives either chemotherapy or radiation therapy to prevent relapse. The chemotherapy agent is most often given as an intravenous drip, or as tablets. But in order to reach the tumour, the cytostatic agent must first spread through the whole body which causes severe undesired effects.
The idea of bioSWITCH is that a small ion pump is implanted close to the tumour. The pump can be electronically controlled, and delivers the drug. A harmless activation molecule is transported through the ion pump and delivered in a highly controlled manner to another harmless molecule that is already in place, close to the tumour. When these two molecules meet and the activation molecule clicks into place, an effective chemotherapy agent is released.
Since the chemotherapy agent is delivered at the right place, at the right time, and in the right dose, it is possible to use a much lower dose. It is also possible to use a much more potent drugs (and even toxins), that cannot be given intravenously otherwise due to its high toxicity.
“In some cases, the timing can be as important as the dose itself. The circadian rhythm of the body is extremely important: the implant allows us to control the delivery much more accurately and effectively and thus hopefully pave the way towards better treatments with fewer undesired effects and better treatment outcomes,” says Johannes Bintinger.
The project has a budget of SEK 43 million, of which approximately SEK 15 million will be used for direct research activities at LiU. The project will be funded by the European Innovation Council (EIC) within the EIC Pathfinder Open programme. Other universities taking part are the TU Wien and the Medical University Graz, who join forces with three companies: Tagworks Pharmaceuticals, SupraPolix and OBOE IPR. The EIC is Europe’s flagship innovation programme to identify, develop and scale up innovations. With its Pathfinder programme the EIC supports the exploration of ideas for radically new technologies.