BTG’s x-ray vision: Microscopic beads to target liver cancer

By Flora Southey contact

- Last updated on GMT

GettyImages/Sebastian Kaulitzki
GettyImages/Sebastian Kaulitzki
BTG plc is investigating the use of pre-loaded microscopic beads, which it says can be visualised on x-rays and CT scans, to treat patients with liver cancer.

The experimental treatment is undergoing its first clinical trial​ to deliver a controlled dose of vandetanib – a multikinase inhibitor licensed from Sanofi Genzyme – directly to the liver, and has received support from Cancer Research UK, the UCL Cancer Institute and the National Institute for Health Research.

Spokesperson Chris Sampson told us that unlike traditional chemo-embolisation, which blocks arteries to starve the tumour of oxygen and nutrients, this investigative product uses beads to deliver an agent directly to the tumour.

“The beads are also designed to be visible under x-ray and CT scans, allowing the interventional radiologist treating the patient to see where the beads are during and after the procedure, ensuring they have properly embolised (blocked) the arteries feeding the tumour,” ​he told us.

More visibility, less exposure

According to Sampson, the technology differs to authorised cancer treatments, as it employs a molecule not currently used in the liver. 

“It also has the advantage of being on a visible bead which allows treating physicians to deliver it more precisely to the arteries feeding the liver tumour,” ​he told us.

Sampson said previous studies involving the systemic delivery – whereby the whole body is affected – of vandetanib failed to administer a high enough dose to the liver tumours, due to adverse events and tolerability issues.

“This is what led BTG to license the molecule for loco-regional delivery of this drug, the rationale being that we can deliver a higher dose directly to the liver while sparing exposure to the rest of the body and the associated tolerability issues,” ​he told us.

How is it made?

Sampson said the firm’s bead technology is made from a biocompatible polyvinyl alcohol (PVA) hydrogel that has been modified with sulphonate groups.

“This new experimental bead is made with a similar process, but pre-loaded with the chemotherapeutic agent,” ​and is consequently more expensive, he explained. 

“Because it’s ‘pre-loaded’ and involves a proprietary cytotoxic molecule, there are added costs for manufacturing as compared to our currently marketed embolic bead products,” ​he told us.

Simpson told us the firm hopes to sell the technology via its Interventional Oncology business, which operates in North America and Europe.

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