Use of Radioligand Therapy for Cancer Treatment, Creating A Crucial Race Against Time

Radioligand Therapy for Cancer Treatment (Photo: iStock)

In 2010, Iceland’s volcanic eruption posed a challenge for Dr. Oliver Sartor, a cancer research professor at Tulane University School of Medicine.

The eruption disrupted flights across Europe, delaying a crucial shipment of experimental radioligand therapy from Norway that Sartor was eagerly anticipating.

Radioligand therapy, also known as radionuclide or radiopharmaceutical therapy, is a precise cancer treatment that delivers radiation directly to cancer cells, minimizing damage to healthy tissue.

Unlike other treatments that target rapidly dividing cells, radioligand therapy’s effectiveness relies on the short half-life of its radioactive component, which must be administered shortly after production.

“It takes planning,” explained Sartor. “It’s not something you just sort of walk in and say ‘Oh, I think I’ll give you [this] today.’”

Novartis, a pharmaceutical company, is optimistic about the potential of radioligand therapy despite its logistical challenges.

The company currently produces two FDA-approved treatments: Lutathera for neuroendocrine tumors and Pluvicto for specific prostate cancers. Both medications have treated over 16,000 neuroendocrine and 4,000 prostate cancer patients in the U.S. as of October.

However, these treatments come at a cost. Pluvicto, priced at approximately $42,500, and Lutathera, at about $53,200, are expensive due to the intricate production and rapid shipping requirements involved.

Radioligand Theraphy (Photo: Novartis)

Radioligand therapy has been used for decades in nuclear medicine, though its adoption was initially slow in some medical circles due to financial considerations.

Dr. Delphine Chen from Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center noted the historical challenges but highlighted the therapy’s promise, especially with newer treatments like Pluvicto and Lutathera.

Dr. Leo I. Gordon of Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine acknowledged the financial hurdles in producing radioligand therapy, noting the industry’s profit-driven dynamics.

Despite these challenges, treatments like Pluvicto and Lutathera represent a significant advancement over existing therapies for certain cancers.

Patients like Vanue Lacour Jr., who achieved remission from advanced prostate cancer after receiving Pluvicto, underscore the therapy’s impact. Similarly, Josh Mailman, who stabilized his pancreatic neuroendocrine tumor with radioligand therapy, emphasizes its transformative potential in cancer care.

Looking ahead, as demand for radioligand therapy grows, Novartis aims to enhance global access and awareness. Jeevan Virk, head of radioligand therapy at Novartis, stressed ongoing efforts to collaborate with healthcare systems and regulatory bodies worldwide to expand availability.

Dr. Sartor believes in the transformative potential of radioligand therapy for current and future patients. He advocates for further optimization of the therapy’s supply chain and supports ongoing clinical trials to broaden its accessibility and impact.

Radioligand therapy, despite its complexities, continues to offer hope for patients like Lacour and Mailman, affirming its role as a promising frontier in cancer treatment.

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