Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States. Around the globe, cancer incidence has been steadily increasing over the past half-century. Read article in The Jerusalem Post here.
The question I have asked myself and many others most often over the past decade is, with all this technology, the artificial intelligence, the autonomous cars, the drones, how have we not cracked cancer?
Well, there are of course many answers, the first of which is that there is no such thing as “cracking cancer.” We call it cancer, but every cancer is of course different and needs a different type of cure. The second thing to mention is that in many instances, we actually have cracked it, at least medically. There are endless cutting-edge treatments being deployed as we speak, and endless additional cutting-edge research projects being conducted. There are new breakthroughs all the time, much of which are awaiting FDA approval, but one thing many of these treatments and cures have in common is that they are developed in a tiny country smaller than New Jersey that happens to be located in perhaps the worst neighborhood on Earth. When it comes to cancer research, Israel leads the way.
Finally, the last time I wrote about cutting-edge cancer treatments, I was contacted by a close friend who is a leading oncologist. He pointed out that a disclaimer is very much necessary when I write these articles. The last thing oncologists need is for their patients to think there is some magical solution here and show up to their appointments with a cut-out of an article. In fact, the last thing a cancer patient needs is false hope.
So the disclaimer is that this company is in the clinical trial phase, and if all goes according to plan, tumors might be much more manageable and treatable than they are today, but a lot has to happen before we get there.
And now to the company itself, Alpha Tau Medical, which has developed a novel cancer treatment that destroys aggressive tumors while sparing healthy tissue, to minimize side-effects. This treatment is called Alpha DaRT, and utilizes, for the first time, alpha radiation for solid tumor treatment.
Put simply, as we know, treating cancer involves a whole lot of collateral damage to the surrounding area and the body as a whole. We are not engineered to undergo these treatments. It wasn’t supposed to be this way.
Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States. Around the globe, cancer incidence has been steadily increasing over the past half-century. This is due to longer life spans, lifestyles that promote carcinogenesis (e.g., smoking and high-fat diets), and negative environmental influences such as pollution and electromagnetic radiation.
Today, there are many available cancer treatment options, with varying levels of effectiveness and safety. However, when the tumor is inoperable or there are multiple tumors, good treatment options are limited, and the medical community has long sought a cancer therapy that is highly potent (can effectively treat aggressive tumors) while sparing healthy tissue.
Alpha Tau’s Alpha DaRT (Diffusing Alpha-emitters Radiation Treatment) is the first technology to provide a highly localized and effective treatment of solid tumors using alpha radiation. Alpha particles are known for their high capacity to destroy cancer cells, inducing irreparable double-strand breaks in cellular DNA.
However, alpha particles have an extremely short path length in tissue, which means they cannot reach across the entire volume of a tumor and therefore, until recently, could not be used as treatment for solid tumors.
THE ALPHA DaRT technology, enables the spread of alpha particles across entire tumors by utilizing the radioactive decay of an isotope called radium-224. The treatment is delivered by inserting into the tumor Alpha DaRT seeds which contain radium-224 atoms embedded into their surface. In the process of decay, radium-224 releases its alpha-emitting daughter atoms. These atoms diffuse to a range of several millimeters, delivering a high dose of alpha radiation along the way.
The advantage of the alpha radiation characterizing Alpha DaRT is its extremely high “cancer-killing potential” combined with its short range of side-effects. These unique characteristics limit collateral damage to the surrounding healthy tissue while effectively destroying the tumor. Other radiation therapies that utilize beta, X-ray, and gamma radiation have longer path lengths that cause more collateral damage to tissue, and need to be dosed at higher levels to achieve the same local “cancer-killing-effect.”
The Alpha DaRT technology was invented by two professors from Tel Aviv University: physics Prof. Itzhak Kelson, and immunology Prof. Yona Keisari. CEO Uzi Sofer founded Alpha Tau in 2016 with the goal of making this very promising technology available to millions of patients worldwide.
In a recent study, Alpha DaRT was shown to be effective in humans for aggressive local, radiation-resistant and recurrent tumors of the skin and head & neck. It also demonstrated a very high level of safety for patients, causing no systemic toxicity, and only short-term mild, local toxicity. The treatment led to tumor shrinkage in 100% of cases, and produced a complete response – total tumor destruction – in over 78% of cases! This sounds almost too good to be true.
Study results also showed that the Alpha DaRT possesses many attributes that can contribute to a positive overall patient treatment experience.
• A single minimally-invasive outpatient procedure for insertion of the Alpha DaRT device, without need for any special shielding or an operating room,
• A total treatment duration of only two weeks, where the patient can be at home and live their life normally, and
• Measurable tumor shrinkage in a matter of days
In addition to its value as a single-tumor treatment, Alpha DaRT has shown great potential in pre-clinical studies for the treatment of metastatic cancer, when combined with immunotherapy. Metastases are the primary mechanism of cancer death, so any treatment that can reduce the extent of metastatic growth will prolong patient survival and, it is hoped, reduce some of the suffering and dread that patients feel after a metastatic diagnosis.
Many leading cancer centers around the world are now investigating Alpha DaRT for various tumor types, including breast and pancreas. The trials are taking place in locations including Israel, Canada, Japan, Russia, Italy and in the United States at prestigious institutions such as Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York and Montreal University Hospital Center (CHUM).
Alpha Tau is growing rapidly, having expanded from fewer than 10 employees in 2016 to more than 40 in 2020. To support the growing demand for Alpha DaRT, the company is building global production facilities in Massachusetts, Israel and Japan. Key investors in Alpha Tau’s growth include Shavit Capital, OurCrowd, Medison Ventures, Alan Patricof and Sir Ronald Cohen.
Alpha DaRT has the potential to bring hope to cancer patients all around the world, and while I am trying to not get too excited before we can finally declare the ultimate victory over this horrible disease, containing that excitement in light of Alpha Tau’s impressive clinical trial results is becoming increasingly challenging. This might very well be the breakthrough we have all been waiting for.