The goal is to live a full, productive life even with all that ambiguity. No matter what happens, whether the cancer never flares up again or whether you die, the important thing is that the days that you have had you will have lived. ~Gilda Radnor
Who among us has not been touched by cancer, either our own, a loved one or close friend? When you get to a certain age, it seems that despite all the advances in medicine, cancer still seems to be endemic among our peers.
Discovery of new drugs takes far too long and is extremely expensive. Did you know that on average it costs $2.6 billion to get a drug to market? Sometimes promising medicines don’t even get to the tumor or have terrible side effects.
In this issue, I share some encouraging new cancer tech: AI to help discover new drugs, nanotech to track chemotherapy, and metal catalysts to enhance therapy.
A Molecule Designed by AI Exhibits ‘Druglike’ Qualities
We’ve heard so much about artificial intelligence (AI), but the news usually focuses on how it beats humans at games or can be used to hone facial recognition algorithms. However …
In December, [Google’s] DeepMind debuted AlphaFold, an algorithm designed to predict protein folding — an important step for identifying potential disease targets. It beat the longstanding competition in the pharmaceutical industry, handily.
Good News: AI drug researchers have validated this approach. Published in Nature Biotechnology, a team took 21 days to generate 30,000 designs for molecules targeting a protein involved in fibrosis. The team found their best AI-generated molecule was potent against the targeted protein and displayed qualities that could be considered “drug-like.”
Invention Uses Nanoparticles to Track Chemotherapy
The word “chemotherapy” conjures common side effects of lost body hair, immunosuppression, and even effects on cognition (chemobrain) and worse. Unfortunately, there is often too much guesswork in administering chemo — until now.
Researchers created a process based around magnetic particle imaging (MPI) that uses superparamagnetic nanoparticles as the contrast agent and the sole signal source to monitor drug release in the body at the site of the tumor. … “With MPI, doctors in the future could see how much drug is going directly to the tumor and then adjust amounts given on the fly; conversely, if toxicity is a concern, it can provide a view of the liver, spleen, or kidneys as well to minimize side effects. That way, they could precisely ensure each patient remains within the therapeutic window.”
Good News: This nanoparticle system was paired with Doxorubicin, a commonly used chemotherapy drug. Results in NanoLetters, show that the combination serves as a drug delivery system as well as an MPI tracer which is faster than traditional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and can illuminate drug delivery within tumors hidden deep within the body. Look for it to enter clinical trials soon.
Precious Metal Flecks Could be Catalyst for Better Cancer Therapies
You probably know that the toxic exhaust from your CO2-spewing auto is cleaned up a bit by its expensive catalytic converter. The expense is from precious metals such as platinum and palladium. Turns out palladium can also enhance the action of cancer drugs!
The team created exosomes [vesicles] derived from lung cancer cells and cells associated with glioma — a tumour that occurs in the brain and spinal cord — and loaded them with palladium catalysts. These artificial exosomes act as Trojan horses, taking the catalysts — which work in tandem with an existing cancer drug- straight to primary tumours and metastatic cells.
Good News: A patent has been granted for this method. Vesicles released by cancer cells are tricked into taking up palladium. The metal activates the chemotherapy drug inside the cancer cells while leaving healthy cells untouched, reducing the side effects of chemotherapy.
To sum up, I see a future where AI is used to reduce the cost and time to market for new drugs and where therapies can be closely monitored and targetted to tumors. In the future, perhaps we’ll give a drop of saliva to our AI-powered doc who will prescribe a bespoke pill based on our genetics and then call her in the morning.