PARK CITY, Utah— Biopsies are one of most commonly used methods for diagnosing cancer, but the costs of the procedure can be prohibitive. For major organ biopsies in the United States, patients without health insurance could be charged up to $10,000 or more. And while most simple biopsies don’t generally require hospitalization, major organ biopsies usually do—which adds more expense on top of the biopsy cost itself, as well as the possibility of infections, bleeding, and other complications.
“The high cost of cancer, from diagnostic procedures like biopsies to various treatments and prescription cancer medicines, has become unbearable for patients,” said Paul J. Crowe, CEO of NuView Life Sciences, a clinical-stage oncology firm. “There needs to be a change.”
New imaging technologies in radiology, such as biochemical positron emission tomography imaging combined with magnetic resonance imaging, or computed tomography anatomical imaging, have improved the detection of cancer. And now, NuView has developed a unique, proprietary binary test that could more accurately diagnose cancer by targeting only cancer cells.
According to Dr. Leonard Gomella, Bernard Godwin Professor of Prostate Cancer, chair of Urology at Sidney Kimmel Medical College, and a clinical collaborator for NuView, “Theranostics is the concept that combines therapeutics with diagnostics. A diagnostic imaging test is connected to a targeted drug therapy, today most commonly a lethal radioisotope. Being able to image and treat metastatic lesions in particular is a benefit to this combined approach. In the future this approach may be able to replace biopsies, if lesions are detected with this technology.”
NuView has combined its proprietary NV-VPAC1 peptide construct with the radionucleotide Copper-64—known as (64)Cu—for diagnostics. Research has shown that malignant cells accumulate (64)Cu in much greater quantities compared to healthy cells. As a result, the NV-VPAC1 peptide construct targets cancer cells by binding to VPAC1 receptors, which are overexpressed on the surface of cancer cells.
Healthcare providers can easily view this accumulation using PET diagnostic imaging, eliminating the need for invasive diagnostics. NV-VPAC1 also identifies cancerous cells shed from the body in biofluids like urine, offering a way to diagnose cancers without using radiation.
“The VPAC1 peptide was developed by Dr. Mathew Thakur at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia. VPAC (vasoactive intestinal peptide and pituitary adenylate cyclase activating peptide) receptors are expressed in high density on malignant epithelial cells such as prostate cancer,” Gomella explains. “Dr. Thakur’s TP3805 construct is a peptide analog of VPAC receptor ligand, consisting of 28 amino acids that can be conjugated to variety of radioisotopes. These isotopes can be [used] for imaging or therapeutics. For imaging cancer, VPAC is connected to a Cu-64 PET tracer. However, when the VPAC is connected to the lethal Cu-67 radioisotope, VPAC becomes a potential therapeutic approach to kill cancer cells.”
(67)Cu itself has a half-life of 2.5 days, which limits the patients’ exposure to unnecessary radioactivity during the course of treatment.
“NV-VPAC1 is a unique binary molecular tool, with the ability to diagnose cancer in vivo and in vitro, to treat primary and metastatic lesions, and to allow one to determine the efficacy of therapeutic interventions,” added Thakur, who worked on NV-VPAC1 with a team of his colleagues.
After pausing the investigative process due to the COVID-19 pandemic, NuView plans to resume clinical trials at several major medical institutions.
“Work has been slowed due to the pandemic, but never stopped,” Gomella notes. “The clinical trials that will move forward first use the VPAC-1 concept to detect prostate cancer cells shed in the urine as a diagnostic test. Work continues to refine the best approach in using VPAC1 as a theranostic agent.”
The company, which hopes to go public within the next three years, believes that NV-VPAC1 will outperform other cancer diagnostic and treatment methods, saving both patients and the healthcare system itself a substantial amount of money.
“When you take into consideration that diagnosing and treating cancer may be accomplished without the expensive and invasive tests currently available, we at NuView Life Sciences are confident NV-VPAC1 will revolutionize and transform the field of oncology,” stated Crowe.
“We firmly believe that while the current focus is on prostate cancer, this VPAC-based approach has broader utility. Detecting shed cells in the urine to detect prostate cancer is undergoing expanded clinical international trials,” Gomella concludes. “The VPAC platform has potential for the detection, imaging and treatment of many other epithelial cancers that overexpress the VPAC receptor.”