Billionaire funds particle accelerator technology that saved his life, enabling Michigan State University to provide futuristic precision medicine radiopharmaceutical treatments for prostate cancer
A recent development at Michigan State University (MSU) shows how some healthcare systems are positioning themselves now to transform their radiation oncology services in the near future.
In a major initiative involving radiopharmacy and advanced molecular imaging, MSU‘s College of Human Medicine took a big step when it partnered with the futuristic, $19.5 million initiative Bold Advanced Medical Future (BAMF) Health. With BAMF Health, MSU gains two advanced GE PETtrace 890 cyclotrons. Cyclotrons, a type of particle accelerator, are used to produce radioactive materials that can be used to provide individualized radiopharmaceutical treatments.
Researchers have been designing and testing radiopharmaceuticals for a range of cancers as diverse as melanoma, lung cancer, colorectal cancer, and leukemia. MSU’s newly acquired cyclotron equipment enables the health system to provide advanced precision medicine-based radiopharmaceutical treatments, beginning with prostate and neuroendocrine cancer, according to university news.
Many of these newer drugs are re-engineered versions of existing compounds used for nuclear imaging. Nuclear imaging tests, such as positron emission tomography (PET), sometimes use weakly radioactive compounds linked to molecules that bind to specific targets on the surface of cancer cells, explains a report on the state of radiopharmaceuticals that was published by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) in late October 2020. Specialized cameras can then reveal even tiny deposits of cancer cells, helping to measure the spread of cancer through the body.
Researchers have now repurposed these targeting molecules to carry more potent radioactive compounds, or isotopes, instead—ones that could kill cancer cells instead of simply helping visualize them.
Prostate cancer has been an early testing ground for this repurposing, according to the NCI report. Further, the NCI developed a specialized infrastructure, the Radiopharmaceutical Development Initiative (RDI), for the clinical evaluation of novel theranostic radiopharmaceutical cancer therapies.
Cyclotrons Break Existing Barriers
The problem is that certain isotopes of radioactive medications or chemicals can decay very rapidly. Therefore, treatments must be administered soon after the radiopharmaceutical agent is created. With the advanced cyclotrons, MSU can produce radiopharmaceuticals on-site and will have the resources needed to create new personalized treatments, according to details released by the university.
“Together, BAMF Health and MSU will propel the precision medicine industry forward,” said Norman J. Beauchamp Jr., MD, MHS, MSU’s Executive Vice President for Health Sciences, in a recent announcement. “Precision medicine provides the ability to create a treatment plan tailored uniquely to each person and the very specific manner in which a disease is impacting them. In so doing, each person is provided the greatest likelihood of outcomes that are personally meaningful. This partnership creates the platform where scientists and clinicians will accelerate the pace at which precise care is accessible and affordable for all.”
The cyclotrons that BAMF Health developed and delivered to MSU are among the most advanced in the world, say those involved. They enable MSU to provide and develop theranostic treatments.
Radiopharmaceuticals and Molecular Imaging Advance Theranostics at MSU
Theranostics, a rapidly developing field in precision medicine, combines diagnostics with therapeutics and provides treatments that can be used to simultaneously diagnose and treat a specific condition. With its two cyclotron generators, MSU joins other institutions that have ventured into theranostics, including the University of Kentucky, Purdue University in Indiana, the University of Iowa, University of California (UC) Davis Health, and others.
Radiopharmaceuticals are a key driver of theranostics, as radioactive medications can be imaged as they travel to a target site in the body, such as an active cancer, allowing for a diagnosis. Once the radioactive medication arrives at the target site, it can be used to treat the same condition that it was used to diagnose. Theranostics can be highly individualized in the right conditions.
“The arrival and installation of these cyclotrons is a milestone for Grand Rapids and will allow the combined vision of BAMF Health and Michigan State University to be realized,” said Anthony Chang, PhD, CEO and Founder, BAMF Health. “The advancements in cyclotron technology have been stunning in the recent past.”
The cutting-edge technology at MSU was supported by a $19.5 million gift provided by Doug Meijer, a well-known billionaire businessman and prostate cancer survivor who received lifesaving treatment using a similar technology based in Germany.
“The arrival of the cyclotrons is a symbolic first step in saving lives and improving quality of life for thousands of people with prostate cancer,” Meijer said in a public statement. “These cyclotrons are made for scale and can create multiple isotopes, the remarkable cancer fighting technology that’s the first step in treatment. I am living proof this technology works.”
Potential Applications of Cyclotron Technology
While the cyclotron technology will initially be used by MSU to provide precision medicine treatments for prostate and neuroendocrine cancer, there are numerous potential future applications for this technology. Pharmaceuticals developed by MSU and BAMF Health may one day offer treatments for Alzheimer’s disease, psychiatric disorders, Parkinson’s disease, chronic pain, and many other conditions that are difficult to treat.
Cyclotron technology is not new in nuclear medicine, but radiochemistry laboratories have advanced significantly since the early days of cyclotron generators. Today, the fields of radiopharmaceuticals and theranostics offer unique opportunities for hospitals to become early leaders in emerging precision medicine technologies and research. By engaging early, hospital systems can offer modern, cutting-edge treatments for their patients.