Label on cancer cell for targeted treatment

Producing biological molecules to kill cancer cells without damaging the surrounding healthy tissue. That is the ultimate aim of the company Tagworks Pharmaceuticals, a start-up that has emerged from the NanoNextNL programme.

Read this highlight
  • EN
  • NL
  • Select other language

Photo: Marc Robillard, CEO Tagworks Pharmaceuticals (credits: Bram Saeys)

Existing treatments against cancer often have serious side effects. Chemotherapy, for example, is targeted at cells that quickly grow and divide. Healthy cells, however, can also grow and divide quickly and so hair loss and damage to the stomach wall are some of the side effects. Also in the case of radiation treatment it is still very difficult to target just the tumour tissue. To limit the amount of healthy tissue damaged, nuclear medicine physicians often use a lower dose than is desirable for the complete destruction of the tumour.

Pointer to the tumour

The start-up Tagworks Pharmaceuticals uses chemically modified antibodies that recognise tumour cells. After an injection they attach themselves to the surface of the cancer cell and therefore act as a pointer to it. By subsequently injecting a different molecule that selectively binds to the modified antibody you can specifically aim radioactive emitters or drugs at the tumour tissue. You can also use this technique to very specifically image the tumour and any possible metastases. In that case you attach a source that emits gamma radiation to the second molecule. This radiation can be imaged using a scanner.

Our radioactive molecule binds via a rapid click reaction to the label on the tumour only. Anything that does not bind is quickly urinated out of the body. With this approach we can achieve doses ten times higher than is the case for current drugs without any severe side effects or an accumulation of radiation.

Higher dose

As antibodies that do not bind the tumour will remain in the body for a long time, it is not always possible to immediately bring the radioactive emitters to tumours in the first step, says founder and CEO Marc Robillard. Then the radioactive substances would remain in the body for far too long. Sometime after the first injection, a second injection is needed with the radioactive substances. ‘Our radioactive molecule binds via a rapid click reaction to the label on the tumour only. Anything that does not bind is quickly urinated out of the body. With this approach we can achieve doses ten times higher than is the case for current drugs without any severe side effects or an accumulation of radiation.’

Clicking loose

Tagworks recently expanded its application possibilities with a new discovery. They have succeeded in not only attaching the molecules to the label but also removing these from the label in a controlled manner.  This discovery now makes it possible to very specifically attach medicines to a tumour using the antibodies and to remove them again at will. With this approach, for example, you could apply chemotherapy to just the cancer cells and that would drastically reduce the side effects. Studies are now being performed on mice with intestinal cancer.

Convinced

Robillard is so convinced about his product that at the end of 2011 he started his business with a considerable part of his own money. In addition he received a grant from NanoNextNL and he has a licence on several patents. The seed for the company was planted in 2004 at Philips, which produces medical scanners. To make diseases such as cancer more visible, Philips started a lab to produce biomolecules and nanoparticles. Those molecules led in turn to research into possible treatment methods. When Philips decided to stop this line of research in 2010, Robillard wanted to go further and started his own company.

Robillard’s company is participating in NanoNextNL programme 3C, molecular imaging: ‘Thanks to NanoNextNL I have access to an entire consortium. And I don’t have to pay these people. NanoNextNL is therefore a fantastic asset for starters like me.’

Read more

NanotextNL 2012, page 12
Article C2W Snelle chemie tegen kanker

Theme 3: Nanomedicine

Text: Sonja Knols
Original author: David Redeker