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World first treatment with ‘acoustic cluster therapy’ to improve chemotherapy delivery

A patient at The Royal Marsden is the first in the world to receive chemotherapy assisted by an innovative new technology that uses microscopic clusters of bubbles and liquid droplets to enhance the delivery of drugs to tumours.

18 December 2019

Karen is currently being treated for secondary cancer in her liver following her diagnosis in November 2013.

The clusters of microdroplets and microbubbles are injected along with the patient’s chemotherapy and the technology, called acoustic cluster therapy, uses a standard ultrasound scan to convert the clusters into an activated form within the tumour.
Once activated, with further ultrasound the clusters help to ‘pump’ the drug into the tumour, greatly increasing the amount of drug which reaches the cancer cells.

Improving the effectiveness of chemotherapy

This new treatment, is being trialled at the Oak Foundation Drug Development Unit, a joint unit of The Royal Marsden and Institute of Cancer Research which is funded by The Royal Marsden Cancer Charity. This early clinical trial promises to improve the effectiveness of the chemotherapy by better targeting it to the cancer site, and could potentially be explored with reduced doses of drug in order to reduce the severity of side effects.

The phase I/II clinical trial of acoustic cluster therapy will aim to provide early data on the effectiveness of the therapy as well as establish its safety. The treatment will be used to treat patients with tumours in the liver that have spread from the bowel or pancreas.
If the trial is successful, acoustic cluster therapy could enter larger clinical trials or trials in other cancer types. The researchers aim, eventually, to use acoustic cluster therapy to boost the chemotherapy used to reduce the size of a tumour before surgery – potentially helping to cure some people with cancer.

Acoustic cluster therapy was invented by the Norwegian company Phoenix Solutions. It was further developed with proof-of-concept studies by scientists at The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim.

The clinical trial is largely funded by Phoenix Solutions with additional funding from the Research Council of Norway. It is also supported by the NIHR Biomedical Research Centre at The Royal Marsden and the ICR.

Radiologists, physicists and nurses all working together

Professor Udai Banerji, Deputy Director of the Oak Foundation Drug Development Unit said:

“Our new clinical trial follows on from promising preclinical research that shows this acoustic cluster technology could help to increase the dose of chemotherapy to tumours, potentially allowing a reduced dose to the rest of the body. 

“This trial is a real cross-team effort involving radiologists, physicists and nurses who all work together to provide the treatment and support the patient throughout the process. We’re hopeful that through this collaborative research we can help open up a much-needed new option for patients with hard-to-treat advanced cancers.”

Karen Childs, from North West London is currently being treated for secondary cancer in her liver following her diagnosis in November 2013. She is the first patient to receive this innovative new treatment. Karen said:

“I’m not sure it’s sunk in yet that I’m the very first patient in the world to be receiving this new treatment! This trial is an exciting step for the hospital and a huge step for patients like me, it really would make a big difference to patient’s lives if side effects could be reduced in the future using more targeted treatments like this. It’s an incredible opportunity to be on this trial and the staff at The Royal Marsden have been amazing and very supportive.”

It’s a very exciting ‘door opening’ technology which concentrates more of the drug in the tumour.

Professor Jeffrey Bamber, Professor in Physics Applied to Medicine

Professor Jeffrey Bamber, Professor in Physics Applied to Medicine, who led the work ahead of the clinical trial to further develop and evaluate the technology at The Institute of Cancer Research, London, said:

“We’re delighted that our work on innovative acoustic cluster therapy – which is designed to overcome barriers to drug delivery that tumours develop – has progressed to the point where the technology is now being assessed in patients for the first time. It’s a very exciting ‘door opening’ technology which concentrates more of the drug in the tumour.

“We expect eventually to be able to both treat tumours more effectively and reduce the rate and severity of side effects. In the long term we hope this technology will be of particular benefit in difficult-to-treat tumours, such as those of the pancreas. It may also assist new types of treatments such as immunotherapy.

Taking research from 'bench to bedside'

“The joint development and evaluation of this technology is testament to the strength of the ICR’s industry collaborations in medical imaging, within an environment where we’re able to bring our research discoveries into clinical trials. The trial itself is yet another example of the ICR’s strength in working with The Royal Marsden to take research from ‘bench to bedside’.”

Dr Per Sontum, Chief Executive of Phoenix Solutions, which invented the technology, said:

“We are extremely pleased to announce that Phoenix Solutions is now initiating the clinical development of ACT®. After six years of technical work and pre-clinical development with Prof. Jeff Bamber’s Ultrasound and Optics Team at the ICR, and Prof. Catharina de Lange Davies at The Norwegian University of Science and Technology, the transition to the clinical phase is a very exciting moment for all of us, team and collaborators. We look forward to moving to the next phase of the ACTivate study whose goal is to evaluate the clinical benefits of ACT, then also including Haukeland and Oslo University hospitals as clinical sites.”