Medical researchers at National Cheng Kung University Hospital have found a new way to produce target drugs that allow physicians to build an optimal combination of “targeting” and “curing” elements based on the characteristics of a specific cancer, the Tainan-based hospital announced on Friday.
Introducing the concept of “smart ammunition,” the researchers said that a “modularly assembled” target drug was similar to a smart missile, which is made of a targeting unit that hones in on a target — through means such as heat-seeking, infrared or radar guidance — and an ammunition compartment that can deliver the greatest damage to the designated target, such as standard, armor-piercing or incendiary.
Shieh Dar-bin (謝達斌), an oral disease expert at the hospital, said individual patients may develop different varieties of cancer, with unique cell surface antigens and specific conditions that require customized therapy to induce the best curative effects.
To target cancer cells, physicians have to select a targeting module, or moiety, that recognizes the given type of antigen, Shieh said.
To kill the tumorous cells, physicians should select a curing agent that can most efficiently destroy them according to the patients’ condition, Shieh said. “These factors may not be easily predetermined in the laboratory or the production line.”
“What we do is to allow greater flexibility for physicians in terms of selecting and using the drugs that can best heal their patients,” he said.
Shieh said that for example, if there are 10 existing targeting modules and 10 available curing agents, a facility capable of combining modularly assembled target drugs would be able to produce 100 different combinations of drugs.
And the physicians who have placed the orders could then use the tailor-made drugs on their patient, Shieh said.
The hospital said the new target drugs have passed animal testing and that it has applied for permission to test the modular approach on humans.
With luck, the therapy could be available in hospitals in five years, Shieh said.
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