RenovoRx, a medical technology company led by Indian American Shaun Bagai, has developed a new targeted treatment for pancreatic cancer that is almost doubling survival times and providing new hope in the fight against the disease.
Among cancers, pancreatic is known to be one of the deadliest. For the last several decades, the average survival time has been stalled at 12 months from diagnosis, while the five-year survival rate hovers at a grim eight percent. According to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, it is the third leading cause of cancer death in the United States and will be the second cause of cancer death by 2020.
One the primary challenges with pancreatic cancer is getting enough chemotherapy to the tumor. Using RenovoRx’s RenovoCath dual-balloon intra-arterial catheter, doctors are now able to deliver chemotherapy directly to the tumor, and this targeted delivery is proving to be the key to the RenovoCath’s success, according to the company.
“One of the primary reasons that current pancreatic cancer treatment has been unsuccessful is due to the anatomy and biology of the tumors. Unlike other tumors, pancreatic cancer tumors do not have a strong blood supply. Tumor uptake of standard of care systemic chemotherapy is minimal while the rest of the body is exposed to the toxic therapy with a high level of side effects. Further, there are no blood vessels to target for localized therapy. That’s where our technology comes in,” Bagai, CEO of RenovoRx, explained.
Conventional treatment delivers chemotherapy systemically, meaning it is injected intravenously and travels through the bloodstream. By the time the treatment arrives near the tumor site in the pancreas, much of it has been diffused throughout the body. And because pancreatic tumors have fewer blood vessels, the drugs rarely effectively penetrate to the tumor.
Similar to cardiac catheterization procedures such as angioplasty, the RenovoCath is threaded through the patient’s blood vessels surrounding the pancreas, just next to the tumor. Two tiny balloons are inflated on either side of the treatment site to isolate blood flow. By isolating the treatment site, the physicians are able to deliver a high dose of chemotherapy directly at the tumor site. The patented adjustable dual-balloon catheter design essentially blasts the tumor with maximal doses of chemotherapy, as compared with the diluted amounts of drug that pass by the tumor via systemic chemotherapy, thus maximizing the drug’s efficacy.
“The advantage with our new approach is that our technology isolates the segments of the blood vessel and uses high pressure to drive chemotherapy into the pancreatic tumor where circulating chemotherapy would otherwise never reach,” said Bagai.
The efficacy of the RenovoCath therapy has been demonstrated at Florida Hospital Tampa and El Camino Hospital in Mountain View, Calif., and the findings were recently published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Pancreatic Cancer.
“At 25 months, survival rates are 75% for patients who had undergone combined radiation treatment and targeted chemotherapy with the RenovoCath. These figures are striking in comparison with an abysmal 14% 25-month survival rate of systemic (intra-venous) delivery of gemcitabine as reported in historical controls and current standard of care,” reported Dr. Paul Vitulli, one of the physicians at Florida Hospital-Tampa who performed many of these procedures.
Along with increasing survival times, the RenovoCath is improving the quality of life for pancreatic cancer patients. By limiting exposure to chemotherapy, the RenovoCath reduces its painful side-effects such as nausea and fatigue, allowing patients to lead their lives as they normally would.
“The side effects are minimal compared with the other forms of treatment I underwent. I’m thankful for every additional day it is giving me to work in my garden,” said Mary-Jane Farmanian, a patient who has been treated with the RenovoCath technology in multiple treatment sessions.
While the RenovoCath technology has primarily been used to treat pancreatic cancer, it is also proving effective in treating liver cancer. Dr. David Madoff of New York Presbyterian Weill-Cornell hospital has successfully used RenovoCath to treat liver cancer and has presented his findings at a 2016 medical conference, the AIM Symposium. Said Madoff of one of his liver patient cases: “[Treating this type of anatomy] would have been impossible without this catheter."
What’s next for RenovoRx? The company is currently in the process of identifying investors to fund the launch of a multi-center randomized clinical trial to confirm their early results and peg this treatment pathway as first line therapy.
“Locally advanced pancreatic cancer is an aggressive disease with few effective treatment options,” noted Dr. Christopher Lieu, associate professor, Division of Medical Oncology, University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. “The data presented here is very promising. If randomized studies validate this impressive effect, this could change practice patterns for patients with advanced pancreatic cancer.”
Bagai, who has over 16 years of medical technology expertise, is a graduate of the University of California, Santa Barbara, with a B.Sc. in biology/pre-med.