Cancer therapy points to future in nuclear medicine

Collaboration comes as Ottawa invests nearly $300 million in Vancouver-based lab

Triumf Innovations CEO Kathryn Hayashi: “there’s a real excitement growing around the area of nuclear medicine that we haven’t seen in a long time” | Rob Kruyt

Chemotherapy takes a certain buckshot-like approach to treating cancer, attacking tumorous and healthy cells without discrimination.

But a new made-in-B.C. treatment has the potential to function like a “directed missile” targeting cancer cells while minimizing collateral damage to healthy surrounding tissues, according to Centre for Drug Research and Development (CDRD) venture partner Lana Janes.

Her organization has partnered with national particle physics lab Triumf, just down the road from the CDRD on the University Endowment Lands, to develop the treatment requiring hard-to-come-by isotopes.

“Given their world-class expertise in radiochemistry and isotope production, and our deep experience in developing therapeutic agents and working with clinicians, it made perfect sense for us to work together in this burgeoning field right now,” Janes told Business in Vancouver.

Known as targeted alpha therapy, the treatment involves the development of a drug that carries with it a radioactive particle that delivers bursts of energy to cancer cells with minimal impact on healthy tissue.

And more novel breakthroughs appear to be afoot after Ottawa revealed in last month’s federal budget it was earmarking $293 million to Triumf over the next five years, clearing the path for B.C. to be a global leader in nuclear medicine.

Nuclear medicine involves the use of small amounts of radioactive substances to research and treat diseases.

Medical isotopes are notoriously scarce, and Triumf is one of the few centres in the world with expertise in their production, owing to its possession of the world’s largest cyclotron – a type of particle accelerator.

And with nearly $300 million now in hand, one of the hallmark projects ahead for Triumf will be the creation of the Institute for Advanced Medical Isotopes (IAMI).

IAMI, which breaks ground at the end of the month, will provide space for Triumf’s research partners and facilitate more industry collaborations.

Triumf’s new, five-year strategic plan goes into effect next year, with designs on ramping up commercialization and research coming out of its labs.

 “There’s a real excitement growing around the area of nuclear medicine that we haven’t seen in a long time,” said Triumf Innovations CEO Kathryn Hayashi, who runs the national lab’s commercialization arm.

“You’ve got these incredible investments in world-class science infrastructure that is being put to the use of developing new therapies to benefit our health, to cure incurable diseases. It’s a wonderful story.”

About 18% of Triumf’s revenue stems from dozens of private-sector partners requiring access to the lab’s capabilities annually, Hayashi added.