Targeted chemotherapy - avoiding the toxic side effects of conventional chemotherapy

Cancer cells

Czech scientists have developed what could prove to be a revolutionary anti-cancer treatment, avoiding many of the toxic side effects of conventional chemotherapy. Sometimes dubbed a "magic bullet", the newly-developed drug can be sent straight to the cancer cells without damaging healthy tissue elsewhere.

Blanka Rihova
"Active targeting means that the drug is in some type of conjugate that is targeted using antibodies, lactines or different chemical structures. These chemical structures recognise the specific site, the specific mark on the surface of malignant cells."

Professor Blanka Rihova is the head of the Institute of Microbiology that has participated in developing the drug, which will probably be best suited for the treatment of breast cancer, cancer of the colon and some types of lung cancer.

"The drug that is based on a Czech-English patent is based on HPMA - it's a very long chemical name, it's N-2-hydroxypropylmethacrylamide. It's just a synthetic water-soluble polymer that is the back bone of the conjugate to which the drug and targeting structures are bound."

Data from trials on animals suggests that one of the most common side effects of chemotherapy - nausea, is significantly reduced when targeted drugs are applied. But there are more advantages to the targeted chemotherapy.

"Classic therapy is directed against malignant cells but also against normal cells that very actively proliferate. That means that not only malignant cells but also cells of the immune system, cells in the gastrointestinal tract and gonads, for example - not only these - but these organs are really in danger. The newly developed targeted drugs are mostly directed only against malignant cells. What is really important is that the immune system is not damaged. The immune system is in fact protected and in some way even activated. And that's what we really need because we need the help of the immune system. For the final eradication of the cancer the role of the immune system is very important."

The chemical co-developed by Czech scientists is now undergoing clinical trials in the UK and the United States. Japan has already started testing a similar drug on humans. Professor Blanka Rihova of the Institute of Microbiology says that proper clinical trials on humans might start soon in the Czech Republic as well.

"We used this targeted conjugate in the Czech Republic in the university hospital in Motol in Prague just in eight patients and the reason was to get some basic data to persuade in some way the pharmaceutical company to put a lot of money in the regular clinical trials. We already have a contract with one pharmaceutical company which is thinking about the possibility of starting classic clinical trials here in the Czech Republic."