Electrochemotherapy – which combines conventional drug treatment with short high voltage pulsed electric fields to improve delivery – is an exciting new approach to treating certain types of cancer that is proving its efficacy. The EU-backed ESOPE project has developed a standard operating procedure (SOP) and equipment that will help harmonise the use of this treatment in Europe as well as reduce cost.
Every year, 4 million new cases of cancer are diagnosed and 750 000 people die of the disease in Europe alone. As life expectancy in most European countries rises, so do cancer-related deaths. Indeed, cancer is likely to remain one of the biggest killers in the 21st century.
|Regular radiotherapy machines cost around €1 million, but 'Cliniporator' could cost as little as €45 000.|
© Michael Anderson, National Cancer Institute
Although there is no known cure for cancer, there are various approaches to treating one of the industrialised world's deadliest diseases, such as radiotherapy, chemotherapy and the surgical removal of cancer tissue. A novel approach called electrochemotherapy has recently emerged to augment the medical profession's arsenal of effective weapons.
This new treatment combines conventional chemotherapeutic agents with short high voltage pulsed electric fields in order to render the membrane of the tumour cells more porous and, thus, receptive to the drugs being administered. The SOP developed by the EU-funded ESOPE project proved highly effective against cutaneous or sub-cutaneous (on or under the skin) tumours resistant to conventional cancer therapies.
ESOPE – which was funded under the previous Fifth Framework Programme's (FP5, 1998-2002) Quality of Life programme – conducted clinical studies involving 110 cancer patients, treating some 170 individual tumour nodules. Nearly three-quarters of these nodules completely disappeared, while another 11% partially regressed, making the objective response to the novel treatment an impressive 85%.
“Electrochemotherapy (or ECT) is an easy, safe and effective treatment of single or multiple nodules of any histology in the cutaneous or subcutaneous tissue,” says Dr Lluis M. Mir of France's Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), coordinator of the project. “It increases the quality of life of patients, with progressive disease and is an ideal treatment for tumours resistant to conventional therapies.”
One of the partners in the project, a European SME called Igea, developed advanced electrochemotherapy technology that is possibly the most advanced in the world. The new technology has the added bonus that its costs are low enough not only to take some of the strain off public health budgets, but to make it easier to transfer ‘Cliniporator' to developing countries.
Ruggero Cadossi of the firm Igea explained that the 'Cliniporator' would be available for €45 000 while the electrodes necessary for the treatment cost around €700 for each patient. ECT treatment is completed in one session. In contrast, radiotherapy machines are worth some €1 million, with each treatment, five to ten sessions, typically costing € 1 200 per session.
Cancer research is an ongoing commitment on the part of European national governments and the EU. Under the current FP6 (2002-2006), R&D is funded under the ‘Combating cancer' focus of the major diseases stream of the ‘Life Sciences, Genomics and Biotechnology for Health' thematic priority.
European Commission, EU project, CER 2005