New medicines for
blood cancer, tumour

The Kerala-based Amrita Centre for Nanosciences and Molecular Medicine will be unveiling next week two projects that offer a ray of hope to millions of people who are battling blood cancer and brain tumour.

By T K Devasia

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Published: Mon 23 Sep 2013, 11:44 PM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 4:45 PM

The first project involves development of a nano medicine for cancer that can dramatically improve the treatment of drug-resistant Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia (CML), when used in combination with Imatinib, the standard drug for the crippling disease.

The other one is a mechanism that can effectively prevent recurrence of Glioma, or brain tumour — a deadly disease that affects about four out of every 100,000 people in India. The life expectancy of high-grade glioma patients is about one to two years.

The two products will be formally unveiled on the occasion of the 60th birthday celebrations of internationally acclaimed spiritual leader Mata Amritanandamayi on September 26 at Vallikkavu in Quilon district. .

As for CML, it affects approximately two out of every 100,000 people in India annually. Almost 40 per cent of these cases are resistant to Imatinib. For such patients, treatment options are extremely limited.

“What we have done at Amrita is to take a particular ‘small-molecule inhibitor’ class of anti-cancer drug that is currently available in the market and encapsulate it into a protein nano-capsule,” says Dr Shantikumar Nair, the Centre’s director.

The nano-encapsulated version of the drug has shown itself to be non-toxic in healthy mice in tests conducted by his department, and it has similarly demonstrated itself to be effective in tests involving blood samples of people with Imatinib-resistant CML, points out Dr. Nair, an alumnus of the IIT, Mumbai and the Columbia University, New York.

“This allows the drug to be absorbed directly into the cancer cells circulating in the patient’s bloodstream. This has a marked increase on its efficacy in killing the cancer cells. Further, the circulation lifetime of the drug in the blood is increased, which also increases its efficacy,” he adds.

The nano-encapsulated version of the drug has shown itself to be non-toxic in healthy mice in tests conducted by his department and will soon be subjected to clinical trial for evaluating its efficacy.

In the case of glioma, the standard treatment for people suffering from the disease is to excise the tumour, taking care to minimise loss of any healthy brain tissue, points out Dr Nair.

Gliadel Wafer, which is currently used for the treatment, provides protection only for three to four weeks. The new polymer developed by Amrita continues to release the chemotherapy drug for six months to a year.

The Centre’s wafer has been tested in healthy rats and it was found to be well-tolerated by the brain. The next step is to test the wafers in rats with brain tumours to check its efficacy in terms of preventing tumour recurrence and then the clinical trials.

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