MIT – Nanoparticles designed to home in on cancer cells achieve tumor shrinkage at lower doses than traditional chemotherapy. The nanoparticles feature a homing molecule that allows them to specifically attack cancer cells, and are the first such targeted particles to enter human clinical studies. Originally developed by researchers at MIT and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, the particles are designed to carry the chemotherapy drug docetaxel, used to treat lung, prostate and breast cancers, among others. The researchers demonstrate the particles’ ability to target a receptor found on cancer cells and accumulate at tumor sites. The particles were also shown to be safe and effective: Many of the patients’ tumors shrank as a result of the treatment, even when they received lower doses than those usually administered.
An artist’s rendering of BIND-014.Image: Digizyme, Inc.
Abstract – We describe the development and clinical translation of a targeted polymeric nanoparticle (TNP) containing the chemotherapeutic docetaxel (DTXL) for the treatment of patients with solid tumors. DTXL-TNP is targeted to prostate-specific membrane antigen, a clinically validated tumor antigen expressed on prostate cancer cells and on the neovasculature of most nonprostate solid tumors. DTXL-TNP was developed from a combinatorial library of more than 100 TNP formulations varying with respect to particle size, targeting ligand density, surface hydrophilicity, drug loading, and drug release properties. Pharmacokinetic and tissue distribution studies in rats showed that the NPs had a blood circulation half-life of about 20 hours and minimal liver accumulation. In tumor-bearing mice, DTXL-TNP exhibited markedly enhanced tumor accumulation at 12 hours and prolonged tumor growth suppression compared to a solvent-based DTXL formulation (sb-DTXL). In tumor-bearing mice, rats, and nonhuman primates, DTXL-TNP displayed pharmacokinetic characteristics consistent with prolonged circulation of NPs in the vascular compartment and controlled release of DTXL, with total DTXL plasma concentrations remaining at least 100-fold higher than sb-DTXL for more than 24 hours. Finally, initial clinical data in patients with advanced solid tumors indicated that DTXL-TNP displays a pharmacological profile differentiated from sb-DTXL, including pharmacokinetics characteristics consistent with preclinical data and cases of tumor shrinkage at doses below the sb-DTXL dose typically used in the clinic.
By 2006, they had demonstrated that targeted nanoparticles can shrink tumors in mice, paving the road for the eventual development and evaluation of a targeted nanoparticle called BIND-014, which entered clinical trials in January 2011.
For this study, the researchers coated the nanoparticles with targeting molecules that recognize a protein called PSMA (prostate-specific membrane antigen), found abundantly on the surface of most prostate tumor cells as well as many other types of tumors.
One of the challenges in developing effective drug-delivery nanoparticles, Langer says, is designing them so they can perform two critical functions: evading the body’s normal immune response and reaching their intended targets.
“You need exactly the right combination of these properties, because if they don’t have the right concentration of targeting molecules, they won’t get to the cells you want, and if they don’t have the right stealth properties, they’ll get taken up by macrophages,” says Langer, also a member of the David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at MIT.
The BIND-014 nanoparticles have three components: one that carries the drug, one that targets PSMA, and one that helps evade macrophages and other immune-system cells. A few years ago, Langer and Farokhzad developed a way to manipulate these properties very precisely, creating large collections of diverse particles that could then be tested for the ideal composition.
“They systematically made a set of materials that varied in the properties they thought would matter, and developed a way to screen them. That’s not been done in this kind of setting before,” says Mark Saltzman, a professor of biomedical engineering at Yale University who was not involved in this study. “They’ve taken the concept from the lab into clinical trials, which is quite impressive.”
All of the particles are made of polymers already approved for medical use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
The Phase I clinical trial involved 17 patients with advanced or metastatic tumors who had already gone through traditional chemotherapy. In Phase I trials, researchers evaluate a potential drug’s safety and study its effects in the body. To determine safe dosages, patients were given escalating doses of the nanoparticles. So far, doses of BIND-014 have reached the amount of docetaxel usually given without nanoparticles, with no new side effects. The known side effects of docetaxel have also been milder.
In the 48 hours after treatment, the researchers found that docetaxel concentration in the patients’ blood was 100 times higher with the nanoparticles as compared to docetaxel administered in its conventional form. Higher blood concentration of BIND-014 facilitated tumor targeting resulting in tumor shrinkage in patients, in some cases with doses of BIND-014 that correspond to as low as 20 percent of the amount of docetaxel normally given. The nanoparticles were also effective in cancers in which docetaxel usually has little activity, including cervical cancer and cancer of the bile ducts.
The researchers also found that in animals treated with the nanoparticles, the concentration of docetaxel in the tumors was up to tenfold higher than in animals treated with conventional docetaxel injection for the first 24 hours, and that nanoparticle treatment resulted in enhanced tumor reduction.
The Phase I clinical trial is still ongoing and continued dose escalation is underway; BIND Biosciences is now planning Phase II trials, which will further investigate the treatment’s effectiveness in a larger number of patients.