Pinoy-developed cancer treatment could mean less pain for patients

A cancer treatment currently under development promises fewer side effects and less pain for cancer patients. Developed by a team led by Dr. Jay Lazaro of the Institute of Biology, University of the Philippines-Diliman, the treatment uses immunoliposomes as carriers of drugs in cancer therapy. It is set to be tested on mice, and is part of a project funded by the Department of Science and Technology. "Our work is centered on the production of immunoliposomes and their testing in mice. The genetic engineering of the unique antibody, the key part of the project, was the work of our predecessors, particularly Drs. Ed Padlan, Ameurfina Santos, and Gisela P. Concepcion, to name a few. The current team consists of myself, and Drs. Denise Bascos, Portia Sabido, and Sonia Jacinto, all of UP Diliman," Dr. Lazaro told GMA News Online. "The immunoliposome approach is not new. It is a logical consequence of the specific binding properties of antibodies. In our case, we attach an antibody to a known anticancer drug, the 'payload', to favor the latter's concentration at the target site. Labs around the world are experimenting with different disease targets, different antibodies, different liposome formulations, and different 'payloads. One immunoliposome will not work against all cancers," he explained.

"This kind of breakthrough technology is part of DOST’s drug discovery program for 2012,” says DOST Secretary Mario Montejo. “It lists high in the priorities under the Department's antibody molecular oncology R&D in our search for anti-cancer treatments suitable to Filipinos.”

More common chemotherapy methods damage normal cells, so patients experience unpleasant side effects such as nausea, vomiting, allergic reactions, fatigue, weight loss, changes in taste and smell, loss of appetite and hair loss. Therefore, a treatment that affects fewer normal cells will result in fewer side effects.

The immunoliposome method coats cancer-treating drugs with liposomes, or microscopic artificial sacs that can be filled with drugs.

The technology is more specific as it targets only cancer cells. Since there are fewer non-cancer cells affected by the treatment, it results in less toxicity and the patient feels less pain.

The team is presently testing the technology using Caelyx, a cancer drug, as a benchmark. However, “the technology can be eventually used for any other drug and any other illness,” says Dr. Lazaro.

Cancer treatment using Caelyx may cost from P40,000 to 45,000 for every 20 mg. Although the immunoliposome treatment may cost higher, it can potentially be more effective because it is target-specific and results in less toxicity. This could mean less fatigue for the patient and a greater chance of beating and recovering against the disease.

According to the Department of Health, cancer is one of the leading causes of morbidity and mortality in the Philippines, behind communicable diseases and cardiovascular diseases. — TJD, GMA News