Biomedicine

Device Tests Drugs on a Tumor That’s Still in the Body

Presage’s device would allow oncologists to test potentially harmful compounds in tiny amounts before giving patients a full dose.

Experimental cancer drugs not only have a low change of success, but also often cause harmful side effects.

A device that injects different drugs into tumors to test their efficacy could soon help doctors tailor treatment regimens to a patient’s cancer.

Kill shot: Presage’s technology lets researchers test live tumors to see whether a small injection of a particular cancer drug (green) will work. The red marks show tumor cells succumbing to a drug. The drug is working in the top image, but not in the bottom one.

Seattle’s Presage Biosciences is developing the technology, which injects minute amounts of different cancer drugs into a tumor while it is still in the body. Once the tumor is removed, doctors can examine it to see which drugs killed its cancerous cells. The drugs that work best within the tumor can then be given in larger doses intravenously to fight the cancer throughout the body.

The technology could address a big challenge for oncologists: finding a quick, effective treatment that doesn’t cause patients undue suffering. An oncologist who gives a patient an anti-cancer drug today has no guarantee that it will work. In many cases, the drug will cause only harmful side effects, says Jim Olson, a pediatric neuro-oncologist and scientist at Seattle Children’s Hospital and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. “I am sick of writing prescriptions for kids to give them experimental therapies that have a 94 percent chance of failing and that will more than likely make them sick,” says Olson, who is also the founder of Presage.

The new device uses several needles to inject small quantities of drugs into a tumor through the skin—a “fifth of a raindrop,” says Olson—into a living tumor. The “soaker hose”-like needles thread narrow columns of drug through the tumor; once the tumor is removed, it is sliced into thin sections which can be stained for markers of drug activity.

The researchers are working on a handheld disposable version of the device and recently launched a clinical study of the technology.

The device could be helpful beyond personalizing cancer treatments. Drug companies could use it to study experimental new treatments and in combinations of drugs, a hot area of cancer drug research (see “EmTech: The Future of Cancer Treatment” and “Nanoparticles Could Lead to Stronger Drugs, Fewer Side Effects for Patients”).

Pharmaceutical company Millennium is using Presage’s technology to test cancer drug combinations on solid tumors in lab animals to identify more effective treatments. “The Presage technology is definitely unique,” says Mark Manfredi, senior director of cancer pharmacology at Millennium. Being able to test drugs in the body is a huge advantage, he says. “We are able to then pursue a broad set of questions with the Presage technology faster than a traditional study where the drug is delivered systemically.”

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