A new cancer therapy using nanoparticles to deliver a combination therapy direct to cancer cells could be on the horizon, scientists say.
The therapy, which has been shown to make breast cancer and prostate cancer tumours more sensitive to chemotherapy, is now close to entering clinical trials, said researchers from the University of East Anglia (UEA) in the UK.
A study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, confirmed that it can be mass-produced, making it a viable treatment if proved effective in human trials.
Using nanoparticles to get drugs directly into a tumour is a growing area of cancer research.
The technology is the first of its kind to use nanoparticles to deliver two drugs in combination to target cancer cells.
The drugs, already approved for clinical use, are an anti-cancer drug called docetaxel, and fingolimod, a multiple sclerosis drug that makes tumours more sensitive to chemotherapy.
Fingolimod cannot currently be used in cancer treatment because it also supresses the immune system, leaving patients with dangerously low levels of white blood cells.
While docetaxel is used to treat many cancers, particularly breast, prostate, stomach, head and neck and some lung cancers, its toxicity can also lead to serious side effects for patients whose tumours are chemo-resistant.
Since the nanoparticles developed by the team can deliver the drugs directly to the tumour site, these risks are vastly reduced.
In addition, the targeted approach means less of the drug is needed to kill off the cancer cells.
"So far nobody has been able to find an effective way of using fingolimod in cancer patients because it's so toxic in the blood," said Dmitry Pshezhetskiy from UEA.
"We have found a way to use it that solves the toxicity problem, enabling these two drugs to be used in a highly targeted and powerful combination," Pshezhetskiy said.
The researchers investigated if it was possible to synthesise the different components of the therapy at an industrial scale.
They are now looking for industrial partners and licensees to move the research towards a phase one clinical trial.
Included within the nanoparticle package are molecules that will show up on an MRI scan, enabling clinicians to monitor the spread of the particles through the body, researchers said.
The team has already carried out trials in mice that show the therapy is effective in reducing breast and prostate tumours. These results were published in 2017.