ANSTO reactor helps develop pancreatic cancer treatment

THE Australian Nucelar Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) is providing expertise and irradiation services for Sydney-based biomedical company OncoSil Medical, which is developing a device to treat pancreatic cancer tumours.

The company’s device, OncoSil, is an implantable radiotherapy device containing a phosphorus radioisotope which is used to treated patients with inoperable pancreatic cancer tumours.  

Evaluation of OncoSil is currently underway in a global clinical trial being conducted in Australia, US and UK, with 25 patients now successfully implanted. OncoSil’s approach involves the delivery of concentrated and localised radiation from microscopic sources which are inserted directly into a tumour. 

The OPAL multi-purpose nuclear reactor at ANSTO is providing ‘activation’ of the microparticles through the production of phosphorus-32 (32P); a radioisotope which is encapsulated within the microparticles.

The OncoSil implant is delivered directly to pancreatic tumours via an ultrasonically guided endoscopic procedure. 

There are several Australian patients among the subjects enrolled in the current global clinical trial, which is evaluating the safety and efficacy of the microparticles, in combination with chemotherapy, for adenocarcinoma of the pancreas. 

Preliminary results were reported by Oncosil Medical at the European Association of Nuclear Medicine in October last year in Vienna showing the device was able to control spread of disease by 100 percent up to 16 weeks post implantation, while also reducing tumour volumes by about 70 percent up to 12 weeks following the procedure.

These results are particularly impressive given the lack of breakthroughs in recent decades treating pancreatic cancer, and were favourably received by the nuclear medicine global community. 

Oncolsil Microparticles are designed to deliver a minimum dose radiation of 100 gray in one single treatment. It does this while at the same time sparing any significant dose to healthy tissue, such as the normal pancreas.

This internal radiation therapy can be compared with external beam therapy in which doses to the tumour are usually significantly lower, and the risk of collateral damage is significantly higher. 

There are more than 280,000 new cases of pancreatic cancer worldwide every year and 265,000 die of their disease.

Oncologists recommend conventional radiation therapy in some cases but it can damage healthy tissue. Almost 80 per cent of pancreatic cancer cases are inoperable. 

As a promising alternative, Oncosil Microparticles have been developed with the involvement of researchers and clinicians over several years. 

The useful properties of phosphorous radioisotopes have been known since the 1940s, and they have been used for the treatment of blood cancers, other metastatic malignancies, eye disease, as well as for diagnostic means and in palliative care. 

Microparticles of silicon containing phosphorous are placed in the OPAL reactor to activate the phosphorus forming an isotope of 32P which emits beta radiation.

Once activated the radioactive phosphorous has a half-life of about14days. 

The reactor is used to also provide a supply of the most commonly used nuclear medicine technetium-99m and other diagnostic and therapeutic radiopharmaceuticals for other industry partners.

“ANSTO, and OPAL, are pleased to play a role in the manufacture of this unique product that may offer an effective treatment option to people with advanced pancreatic cancer,” said ANSTO’s Dr Timothy Boyle. 

Commenting on the relationship, Daniel Kenny, CEO of OncoSil Medical said, “ANSTO has been a important partner for OncoSil Medical, and absolutely critical in the supply of radioactive microparticles for our medical device which we hope will make a real difference in the lives of those affected by pancreatic cancer. We appreciate all their support to date, and look forward to continuing to work together into the future.” 

OncoSil Medical continues to recruit patients to its global pancreatic cancer clinical study program across sites in Australia, US and UK.


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