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Research Team Of The Month – Targeted Cancer Therapeutics (IHMRI)

The Targeted Cancer Therapeutics Team at the Illawarra Health and Medical Research Institute (IHMRI) aren’t a big team. But the cancers they’re tackling, are. Cancers such as pancreatic cancer and triple negative breast cancer are just two of the cancers currently being investigated via the development and testing of innovative technologies which, they hope, will improve patient survival rates.

Implantable device delivering chemotherapy drugs directly to tumours

About 2,600 people are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in Australia each year. Whilst the most common treatment is surgery, for more than 80% of patients, the cancer has progressed too far for surgery to be successful. With a poor response to chemotherapy and radiation therapy, the prognosis is not good: less than five per cent of patients are still alive five years after diagnosis.

Two drugs, GEMZAR (gemcitabine) and Abraxane (nab-paclitaxel) have been shown to work together to extend the life of patients with pancreatic cancer. However, treatment only improves survival by a matter of months and there is toxicity to surrounding tissue and organs with the use of high doses of these drugs. Therefore, using drug delivery depots which can deliver therapeutic concentrations of chemotherapy directly to the tumour look promising as treatment options. As such, the team have developed a device to do just that.

“We believe the development of an implantable drug-eluting device, capable of delivering sustained, therapeutic concentrations of two chemotherapeutic drugs locally, will achieve tumour control and convert non-resectable cases to resectable (removal) cases to improve overall patient survival,” says team leader, Dr Kara Vine-Perrow.

The study is currently supported by PanCare Foundation and is in the first year of the three-year project.

Implantable device for delivery of immunotherapy in triple negative breast cancer

Around 15% of women of the 15,000 women diagnosed with breast cancer each year will have what is known as triple negative breast cancer. This type of breast cancer is aggressive and extremely difficult to treat and has a poor survival rate: a median overall survival of under 24 months.

Unlike other breast cancers, triple negative breast cancers do not respond to traditional breast cancer drugs like Tamoxifen and Herceptin. They also lack tumour specific markers which would benefit from targeted therapy.

Immunotherapy, or drugs that target a person’s own immune cells, work by making the cancer visible to the body’s immune system so it can seek out and destroy cancer cells. Breakthroughs have already been seen in lung cancer and metastatic melanoma. The Targeted Cancer Therapeutics Team are currently investigating localised immunotherapy delivery through a non-toxic implantable device. The team hopes that by targeting the tumours directly with a combination of immune modulating drugs they can achieve a greater therapeutic response, reduce toxic side-effects in surrounding tissue and ultimately, improve patient survival.

The study is receiving generous support from the Illawarra community for which Dr Kara Vine-Perrow is extremely grateful. 

By Linda Music