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MU researchers work with Indian firm to develop cancer treatment

Thursday, December 2, 2010 | 1:04 p.m. CST; updated 4:24 p.m. CST, Thursday, December 2, 2010
MU researchers Raghuraman Kannan and Kattesh Katti, Robert Churchill, dean of the MU School of Medicine, and Abhaya Kumar, the founding director of Shasun celebrate the foundation of the new drug development company, Shasun NBI, which will work on further development of a prostate cancer treatment that uses gold nanoparticles.

*The company's name is Shasun NBI. An earlier version of the story misspelled the company's name.

COLUMBIA — Two MU professors are partnering with the Indian pharmaceutical company Shasun to work on a new treatment for prostate cancer.

The collaboration will form a new company, Shasun *NBI, to research and market radiopharmaceuticals, a technology that uses irradiated particles to attack cancer tumors.

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Kattesh Katti, an MU professor of radiology who is part of the collaboration, said this method of combating cancer is "very precise" and "site-specific."

Traditional radiation therapy involves subjecting a cancer patient's entire body to high doses of radiation. This often kills the cancer, but leaves the patient weakened and susceptible to other disease.

The technology Shasun NBI hopes to develop involves subjecting individual gold molecules to radiation and then injecting those irradiated molecules directly into the tumor.

"The gold nanoparticles we're developing have a unique affinity to tumor proteins," Katti said. "They attack the tumor directly and leave healthy cells alone."

Raghuram Kannan, the other doctor collaborating with Shasun, said he "wanted a strategic partner to take (our research) to the next level. Shasun has good manufacturing capabilities."

"We have a strong belief that nanomedicine can bring us new drugs," Kannan said. "This drug is for prostate cancer, but it's not limited to that. This is a technique which might be applied to all solid tumors."

Shasun Pharmaceuticals is a Bombay Stock Exchange-listed company with a market capitalization of $250 million.

Shasun's director of operations and strategy, Abhaya Kumar, said his company had invested $1.5 million in the partnership, but said they could extend more. Kumar flew from India to attend the Thursday morning announcement at the Life Science Business Incubator.

"We chose MU because we know they have a capability of doing a lot of radioactive pharmaceutical work," Kumar said. "We heard about nanoparticle technology available through MU and we thought this was our best opportunity for taking a molecule from the laboratory to the community."

Kumar also identified MU's research reactor as a strong reason for the partnership. The scientists use the MU Research Reactor Center to irradiate the gold particles.

Mike Nichols, MU's vice president for research and development, said that "while the investment is very large, so is the potential benefit, such as creating high-tech jobs here in the community." Nichols also said the drug could result in "substantial sales."

"MU researchers are responsible for nine-tenths of the radiology products released in this area," he said.

Robert Duncan, MU vice chancellor for research, lauded the partnership as "the opposite of outsourcing."

Jamal Ibdah, MU's senior associate dean of medicine, highlighted the importance of this research.

"The American Cancer Society estimates 220,000 men are affected by prostate cancer every year," Ibdah said, "and 32,000 U.S. residents die from it every year. One-sixth of U.S. men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime."

Ibdah said the best hope MU can offer these patients is to translate its research discoveries into new therapies.

The partnership aims to do that. Kumar said that his vision is to be the first to introduce nanoparticle-based treatment for the treatment of cancer.

"We're looking for at least a million doses of the drug per year," Kumar said of his ultimate goals for the treatment.


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