Advanced Chemotherapy Technologies Inc. (ACT), a North Carolina-based bioscience company is developing an implantable device to deliver chemotherapy drugs directly into the pancreas of people with pancreatic cancer. The device will target difficult-to-reach tumors while sparing surrounding organs, tissues, and blood vessels.
Pancreatic cancer is a hidden danger that lurks deep in the abdomen. It has few symptoms until the disease progresses to an advanced stage. The cancer typically spreads fast to nearby organs. Because of its tendency to spread silently before diagnosis, it is considered the 4th deadliest cancer. It is the 3rd leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States, in part because it is very difficult for chemotherapy drugs to reach the pancreas, which is located deep within the abdomen.
The cancer often has no initial symptoms, and there are no reliable tests for early detection. The mortality rate is 75% within a year of diagnosis, and the five-year survival rate is only 8.5%. And for those whose tumors have spread too far to be surgically removed, life expectancy is only six months to a year.
According to American Cancer Society, only one fifth of Americans diagnosed with the disease survive for a full year.
“There is no early detection method for pancreatic cancer — the cancer is usually diagnosed only after it has metastasized,” says Julie Fleshman, president and CEO of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, a California-based organization that advocates for pancreatic cancer research and patient and family support.
Delivering drug accurately could enable the tumors to shrink enough so that surgeons can remove them, the best treatment option, says entrepreneur Tony Voiers, the company’s chief executive officer. While it may not always cure the disease, the improvement in drug delivery could extend a patient’s life expectancy.
How does the implantable device work?
The tiny implantable device, about the size of a quarter, would be implanted in the pancreas with electrical leads running to the abdomen. Using a process called iontophoresis, which utilizes electrical currents that pass through the drug solution, the device would deliver chemotherapy into the cancerous tumor.
A smaller version of the device was tested successfully on human pancreatic cancers implanted in mice, in a pre-clinical study conducted at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
In the mice receiving drug directly into the pancreas via the new device, tumors shank by 40% compared to the mice treated with an approved chemotherapy drug, where drug slowed tumor growth but tumors still grew almost 2.5 times their original size.
“That’s what got me into the company,” Voiers says. “That was a very impressive reduction from my standpoint. That’s what we’re working to replicate in humans.”
The company plans to start first human testing of the device next year at UNC. Up to 12 pancreatic cancer patients will receive gemcitabine through the device in a Phase 1 clinical trial to establish safety.
ACT plans to begin first-in-human testing of the device next year at UNC. Up to 12 pancreatic cancer patients will receive gemcitabine through the device in a Phase 1 clinical trial to establish safety.