Teaming drugs and
devices to fight cancer

Philips and Celsion Turn Up the Heat On Cancer

September 24, 2009
by Brendon Nafziger, DOTmed News Associate Editor
A joint therapy using a temperature-raising ultrasound device and a heat-activated cancer-fighting drug has just completed feasibility trials, according to a statement by electronics giant Philips and the oncology drug-maker Celsion.

The technique, the fruit of a two-year collaboration between Philips, based in the Netherlands, and Celsion, out of New York, tries to the answer one of the main challenges of cancer treatment: delivering the main force of a drug directly on the site of the cancer.

The trials used Celsion's ThermoDox, the anti-cancer drug doxorubicin wrapped in a heat-sensitive liposome envelope. This drug is inactive until heated to 39.5 degrees Celsius.

In the therapy, the drug is heated using Philips new MRI-guided High Intensity Focused Ultrasound (MR-HIFU), which applies acoustic energy to induce "localized mild hyperthermia," according to the statement. The MR-HIFU heats the tumor area, activating ThermoDox by releasing doxorubicin from its liposome bonds, and letting it directly attack the cancer.

The current technique is intended to treat pancreatic cancers and cancers that have metastasized in the bone. With feasibility studies finished, the next step will be trying it on animal models.

"The joint program is just entering pre-clinical development so the combination would need to move through human clinical trials before being filed for regulatory clearance," Michael Tardugno, president and CEO of Celsion, told DOTmed News. He expects ThermoDox to receive FDA clearance in about three years.

ThermoDox and MR-HIFU are also under investigation for their effectiveness in other therapies.

"ThermoDox is currently in a Phase 3 trial to evaluate it in combination with RFA [radiofrequency ablation] to treat primary liver cancer," Tardugno explained. "It is also in a Phase 2 trial to evaluate its potential to provide a quality of life benefit in combination with hyperthermia for those with recurrent chest wall breast cancer."

MR-HIFU is also being tested in a global, multi-center trial for treating uterine fibroids.