Microscopic beads deliver precisely-controlled doses of vandetanib directly to blood vessels feeding tumors.

A first-of-its-kind trial was launched recently to study an experimental liver cancer treatment that puts microscopic beads loaded with tumor-inhibitor vandetanib in the best possible position to treat the disease. The first trial, announced jointly by bead technology developer BTG plc and researchers from the University College London (UCL) Cancer Institute, was designed to evaluate how effective BTG’s radiopaque microscopic bead technology is at killing liver tumors.

Although employing microscopic beads to deliver therapeutic payloads to treat liver cancer is not new, studying the effects of greater precision delivery, using a better, multi-path tumor inhibitor is. "The incidence and mortality rates for primary liver cancer continue to climb and it is vital that we explore new treatment approaches,” explained Ricky Sharma, Chair of Radiation Oncology at UCL and the study's primary investigator. “This research is exciting because it is the first time we have been able to pre-load a targeted cancer drug on to an imageable bead, to deliver the targeted drug in high doses to the cancer and see exactly how well the beads reach the target we have defined.”

Sharma said that by refining the treatment using information from the clinical trial, drug developers may be able to develop a more-effective liver-directed treatment that is a “superior alternative to the rather poorly tolerated drug treatments we currently offer patients with this type of cancer."

Developed in collaboration with Dr. Alban Denys and the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire Vaudois in Switzerland, the vandetanib-eluting beads use BTG’s platform that can be visualized with a CT or fluoroscope and provide visual confirmation of bead location and density, allowing for real-time adjustments to the therapy.

Melanie Lee, Chief Scientific Officer at BTG said even thought their approach, which they call “loco-regional therapy” is at a very early stage of research, testing vandetanib-eluting beads in human clinical trials is an exciting milestone. “Bringing to market the first embolic beads visible under X-ray imaging has enabled increased control and precision during treatment, and adding a targeted anti-cancer agent we may be able to offer a new option for hard to treat cancers in the liver."