MedTech seems to be reaching a new stride everyday as investments into the sector pour in at an accelerated rate, mainly due to the on-going global health crisis.
As such, a new technology has been developed by the University of Zurich (UZH), where researchers have successfully achieved innovation that allows the body to produce therapeutic agents on demand at the exact location where they are needed.
The innovation could reduce the side effects of cancer therapy and may hold the solution to better delivery of COVID-related therapies directly to the lungs.
According to a statement by UZH, scientists at the University have modified a common respiratory virus, called adenovirus, to act like a Trojan horse to deliver genes for cancer therapeutics directly into tumor cells.
“Unlike chemotherapy or radiotherapy, this approach does no harm normal healthy cells. Once inside tumor cells, the delivered genes serve as a blueprint for therapeutic antibodies, cytokines and other signaling substances, which are produced by the cancer cells themselves and act to eliminate tumors from the inside out,” the statement published by the university said.
“We trick the tumor into eliminating itself through the production of anti-cancer agents by its own cells,” says postdoctoral fellow Sheena Smith, who led the development of the delivery approach.
Research group leader Andreas Plueckthun explains that “the therapeutic agents, such as therapeutic antibodies or signaling substances, mostly stay at the place in the body where they’re needed instead of spreading throughout the bloodstream where they can damage healthy organs and tissues.”
The UZH researchers call their technology SHREAD: for SHielded, REtargetted ADenovirus.
It builds on key technologies previously engineered by the Plueckthun team, including to direct adenoviruses to specified parts of the body to hide them from the immune system.
Attacking the right target
According to UZH, with the SHREAD system, scientists made the tumor itself produce a clinically approved breast cancer antibody, called trastuzumab, in the mammary of a mouse.
They found that, after a few days, SHREAD produced more of the antibody in the tumor than when the drug was injected directly.
“The concentration in the bloodstream and in other tissues where side effects could occur were significantly lower with SHREAD. The scientists used a very sophisticated, high-resolution 3D imaging method and tissues rendered totally transparent to show how the therapeutic antibody, produced in the body, creates pores in blood vessels of the tumor and destroys tumor cells, and thus treats it from the inside,” the statement highlighted.
Uses against COVID-19
According to the main scientists spearheading this research, SHREAD is not only limited to the use of fighting breast cancer but can also be applicable for delivery in wide range of so-called biologics – powerful protein-based drugs that would otherwise be too toxic.
This is mainly due to healthy tissues no longer come into contact with significant levels of the therapeutic agent.
In fact, members of the Plueckthun group are currently applying their technology in a project aimed as a therapy for COVID-19. Adenoviral vectors are already being used in several of the COVID vaccines, including the Johnson & Johnson, AstraZeneca, China’s CanSino Biologics and Russia’s Sputnik V vaccines – but without the innovative SHREAD technology.
“By delivering the SHREAD treatment to patients via an inhaled aerosol, our approach could allow targeted production of Covid antibody therapies in lung cells, where they are needed most,” Smith explains. “This would reduce costs, increase accessibility of Covid therapies and also improve vaccine delivery with the inhalation approach.”