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International KCL research project to develop SMARTdrugs for aggressive cancers

The platform will be used to diagnose and treat cancers, including lung and brain tumours

A new international study led by King’s College London (KCL) researchers is developing a radiotheranostic platform called SMARTdrugs for the diagnosis and treatment of aggressive forms of cancer.

With partners in Munich, Zurich, San Sebastian and Utrecht, the study has been awarded a Pathfinder Open Grant of nearly €4m from the European Innovation Council.

Aggressive cancers such as lung and brain tumours occur when the growth rate is impacted by the genetic makeup of the tumour and the rate at which the cells are dividing.

Researchers aim to create supramolecular compounds as an alternative to the current standard of attaching radionuclides directly to drug molecules to allow clinicians to visualise key signatures of tumours using medical imaging systems.

The supramolecular compounds will have greater control over their size, shape and other biochemical properties than other big molecules, such as proteins, and will determine how well the new compounds perform in human tissue.

Within KCL’s School of Biomedical Engineering and Imaging Sciences (BEIS), researchers will investigate how the new drugs can improve the treatment of lung cancer.

Currently the leading cause of all cancer deaths globally, lung cancer begins with the growth of cells in the lungs. In 2020, the condition was responsible for more than 2.2 million new cases.

Dr Tim Witney, research project lead and molecular imaging specialist, KCL BEIS, and Wellcome Trust senior research fellow, commented: “We are developing a whole new strategy to try and move the dial for patients that are unfortunately diagnosed with aggressive cancer types that currently have a very poor prognosis.

“Whilst most of us associate radioactivity with danger, here we are harnessing its unique properties to kill cancer cells.”

Earlier this year, in April, KCL’s PharosAI project received £100,000 in funding from the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology as part of its Research Venture Catalyst Programme to develop a platform to boost artificial intelligence-assisted healthcare for cancer diagnosis.


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