EU Science Hub

Medical applications of radionuclides and targeted alpha therapy

Cancer is one of the main health problems of today. Unfortunately, the treatments that are currently available, even though often effective, cannot permanently cure the majority of cancers. This is typically true for cancers that have formed metastases and have spread around the body. New therapy approaches are therefore urgently needed. Targeted Alpha Therapy (also called Alpha-Immunotherapy) is such a new approach to cancer treatment.

Targeted Alpha Therapy is based on the coupling of alpha particle emitting radioisotopes to tumour selective carrier molecules, such as monoclonal antibodies or peptides. These molecules have the ability to selectively target tumour cells even if they are spread throughout the body. They recognize the targeted cancer cells through antigens that are expressed on the cell surface and can bind selectively to these cells, similar a key fitting into a lock. In targeted alpha therapy these carrier molecules serve as vehicles to transport the radioisotopes to the cancer cells. This is called the "magic bullet" approach. Radioisotopes that emit alpha particles seem particularly promising to selectively destroy cancer cells. Alpha particles have a high energy in the range of 5-9 MeV and at the same time a very short path length in human tissue below 0.1 mm, corresponding to less than 10 cell diameters. Consequently, the use of alpha emitters allows the specific targeting and killing of individual malignant cells, while minimizing the toxicity to surrounding healthy tissue. The program focuses on all stages of developing targeted alpha therapy from bench to bedside, including the development of novel methods for the production of alpha emitters, pre-clinical studies in vitro and in vivo, as well as the conduction of clinical trials in collaboration with hospitals in Europe and world-wide.