"The majority of cancer is cured through surgery," says On Target Laboratories Chief Executive Officer Marty Low. "Chemo extends life, but in terms of actually curing cancer, the majority of it is cured through surgery. We will open a whole new avenue for people to be cured, because [surgeons] will be able to take out all the lesions and not leave any to further metastasize and have recurrence in the patient."
The technology is the brain child of Marty's brother, Philip Low, a Purdue University biochemistry professor whose discoveries also led to the creation of Endocyte, a West-Lafayette based company developing targeted biopharmaceuticals for cancer. On Target Laboratories has licensed the cancer cell lighting technology from Endocyte.
"Philip has discovered a molecule that only goes to cancer cells," says Low. "Endocyte attaches a toxin to the molecule, so it kills the cancer cell; we attach a fluorescent dye to it, so the surgeon injects the patient, and a couple of hours later, there's a lighted roadmap. It literally fluoresces [the cancer cells], so you can see the spots where the lesions are." Listen
Low says, currently, doctors find cancer cells by sight and touch, so patients are reliant on the doctor's expertise in the eradication of their cancer. Low believes On Target's technology will "level the playing field" by illuminating cancer cells as small as one-thousandth of a millimeter, enabling doctors to find lesions that even a microscope would miss.
"Ovarian cancer can be very difficult, because it can have lots of little lesions throughout the whole area—literally hundreds of them," says Low. "To spot every one of them [with current methods] is very difficult. In a lot of cases, the surgeon will get what they can, then close the patient and send them to chemo, thinking perhaps they didn't get all of it."
In fact, the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance says advance stage ovarian cancer has a 70 percent recurrence rate, often because the surgeon can't see all of the cancer during the initial operation.
The company is hoping to give these patients a more certain outcome. On Target's platform technology, called EC-17, is being developed first for ovarian cancer and is currently in Phase 2 human clinical trials. Company leaders have targeted 2015 for its commercialization. Low says EC-17 also has great potential for lung and possibly renal and breast cancer, but the technology must be separately approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of each form of cancer. Listen
"This is long overdue. Any surgeon we talk to is very excited to try this," says Low, "because it will change the standard of care. It will improve their ability to help their patients."
Company leaders believe the technology will also reduce medical costs by eliminating second surgeries when the cancer returns, due to the spread of cancerous tissue that was missed in the initial operation. Low says EC-17 will also help doctors better manage the "margins," or edges, of the cancerous tissue. Currently, surgeons cut along the edge of the diseased tissue, then send the sample to pathology and wait for the result. Listen
"A half hour later, it comes back negative or positive. Meanwhile, the patient's waiting on the table, the surgeon's waiting—and it costs between $50 and $100 per minute in the operating room," says Low. "If you wait a half hour to send something to pathology, that could be $3,000 right there."
Company leaders believe the technology itself will not be costly to implement, requiring only the EC-17 substance and the camera that visualizes the "glow in the dark" effect with a light source. Low says EC-17 will give immediate feedback on the operating table—a priceless benefit that provides certainty for doctors and peace of mind for patients.