Innovations to combat cancer. How RUSNANO creates technologies and develops personnel for fighting oncological diseases
The fight against cancer is one of the key areas of the Healthcare National Project. Almost RUB 1 trln in funding have been allocated to it up to 2024. With the help of these contributions, the plan is to reduce the mortality from oncological diseases by 8% in Russia by 2024. It is difficult to achieve this goal without introducing advanced diagnostic methods into the medical field and developing effective medicines. Hence, solutions from innovative businesses and significant private investments are required. RUSNANO’s success in this field shows that it is possible to achieve real changes in diagnostics, treatment and pharmacology if promising innovative projects from the private business sector receive support.
Protective container for radiopharmaceuticals
Essential facilities for the national project in the field of oncology will include 420 outpatient oncology clinics in all regions of Russia; 160 regional hospitals for patients with cancer equipped with necessary medical equipment, and 18 reference centers for specialized studies. Only specialists trained in advanced modern methods can ensure accurate diagnosis and high-quality treatment. In addition to providing investment support, the RUSNANO Group is engaged in training and retraining specialists in oncology, who will be sought after by medical institutions under construction at present.
The TASS report includes information about RUSNANO’s most important investment and educational projects in the fight against cancer.
Isotopes for Diagnosis and Treatment
“We were the first in the country to start creating a regional network of centers of nuclear medicine that focuses on diagnosis in oncology,” says Anatoly Chubais, Chairman of the Board of RUSNANO Management Company.
RUSNANO has been able to transfer advanced medical technologies for diagnosis and treatment of cancer to Russia. PET-Technology company, which RUSNANO successfully exited in 2018, has established the country’s first national network of nuclear medicine centers. At present, there are 14 PET/CT diagnostic centers, where 90% of highly accurate diagnostic procedures are carried out free of charge, i.e. they are covered by the Compulsory Health Insurance (OMS). The PET/CT method combines positron-emission tomography and computer tomography, which gives the potential to identify cancer in its earliest stages and enables healthcare practitioners to prescribe a suitable treatment. As part of the initiative, there are two radiopharmaceutical production facilities in the cities of Ufa and Yelets equipped with cyclotron complexes, laboratories for synthesis of radiopharmaceuticals, and CyberKnife (a stereotactic radiosurgery treatment system).
CyberKnife Radiosurgery System, Ufa
Biotech aAgainst Cancer
Another important field in oncology that RUSNANO invests in is clinical research, focusing on foreign biotechnology product localization and development of domestic medications. In the Leningrad region, RUSNANO has opened the Pharmsynthez manufacturing complex, which manufactures a local medication containing hydrazine sulfate for the treatment of brain tumors. The medication has a palliative effect and aims to improve the quality of life of cancer patients. In addition, the company works in one of the most promising areas in oncology treatment, i.e. a personalized CAR T therapy (XCART). The plan is to use the XCART platform to develop a cell therapy for the treatment of B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphomas. In addition, Pharmsynthez produces a drug containing molgramostim used in conjunction with chemotherapy.
There is a plan to manufacture a drug, with the active substance daratumumab, for the treatment of multiple myeloma using the facilities of the Nanolek biopharmaceutical company (established with the participation of RUSNANO, which subsequently exited the enterprise in 2019) in the Kirov region in partnership with Janssen (a subdivision of the Johnson & Johnson group). The medication is expected to be launched in 2021. There are no analogues for it on the Russian market. “The project will improve access to modern and effective treatments for patients with a difficult-to-treat form of cancer, i.e. multiple myeloma,” says the President of Nanolek Vladimir Khristenko.
Nanolek company production facility
Trials and Restructuring of Startups
Another part of RUSNANO Group, the investment network of nanotechnology centers of the Fund for Infrastructure and Educational Programmes, is engaged in creating new businesses. Among almost 800 startups, there are those working on diagnosing rare disorders and oncological diseases, and on helping cancer patients return to normal life.
An important project for the nanotechnology centers in the field of reconstruction in oncology is TEN MedPrint (part of the TechnoSpark group of companies). The startup designs and manufactures individual endoprostheses for specific patients who mass-produced medical devices are unsuitable for, for example, when reconstructing the shape of the jaw and skull after bone removal during oncology treatment. In 2019, more than 500 individualized 3D-printed implants were produced, of which about 10% were for reconstructive oncology.
ULNANOTECH nanotechnology center’s startup TestGen develops and manufactures genetic tests to determine the risk of developing prostate cancer using urine. Such screening was previously unavailable in Russia, but prostate cancer is one of the most common malignancies in men over 40 years of age.
Prostate cancer brachytherapy
Perpic company from the SYGMA. Novosibirsk nanotechnology center developed a spectrometer for quantification of particles in blood and tissue samples using the electron paramagnetic resonance method. Results of such analyses are accurate and the method is fast and low cost.
The ReadSense genome center, a part of the TechnoSpark group of companies, has become the main laboratory of Russia’s OncoBRCA initiative to study genetic causes of hereditary cancers. A specialized data bank is being created using unique clinical samples analyzed by targeted sequencing. The data obtained will be used for testing for inherited cancer risk, identifying risk groups and improving treatment strategies.
The Fund for Infrastructure and Educational Programmes is also involved in an international project to design a compact proton therapy system for cancer treatment. The work is being carried out by Protom company, located in Protvino, Moscow Region, and by the Israeli partner P-Cure. The aim of the project is to make proton therapy widely accessible to cancer patients. A potential advantage of the treatment is the ability of a proton beam to target a tumor, thus minimizing the negative impact on surrounding healthy tissues. Testing of the system is being completed, and an approval application has been submitted to the FDA.
Pilot prototype of the Protom proton therapy system
The Fund for Infrastructure and Educational Programmes has developed 11 training programmes designed for professionals whose work is connected to diagnosing and treating various oncological diseases. By the start of 2020, a total of about 12,000 specialists completed their training.
Five educational programmes, created with the support of the Fund, are on high-tech methods for early diagnosis of cancer—positron emission tomography and computer tomography; the use of omics data; nanotechnology in melanoma diagnosis; high-tech methods for analyzing clinical data in the field of hereditary diseases, and the use of genetic markers for screening and early diagnosis of prostate cancer. Four programmes focus on advanced treatment methods for reproductive system cancers based on targeted medications, radiation and laser therapies, and methods of local destruction of parenchymal organs tumors. Two programmes were designed to update the skills of professionals specializing in both cancer diagnosis and cancer treatment in the fields of nuclear medicine and fluorescence diagnostics, and photodynamic therapy.
The programme on omics data, created for oncologists with Fund for Infrastructure and Educational Programmes support, has become one of the most popular offerings on the platform available via the portal for continuing medical education from the Ministry of Health of the Russian Federation. Several modules of the programme have been viewed by health practitioners about five thousand times.
Analysis of omics data, which includes genetic, proteomic, lipidomic and other medical data, enables one to use a personalized approach to cancer treatment. Similar symptoms in two patients may reflect different pathways of disease progression and, therefore, require different treatments. Omics technologies allow one to use complex data in clinical diagnostics, to study a body on many levels, starting with DNA, and to take into account the efficacy and the side effects of the medications used by the patient.
The programme development phase included training a pilot group and then amending the curriculum accordingly before the programme is launched. As a rule, a typical pilot group consists of 20 people, but more than 200 oncologists from 18 regions of Russia applied for this particular training. As a result, it was expanded to include 60 people who joined a live broadcast with chats and had an opportunity to ask questions and take part in discussions. “Overall, more than six thousand professionals took part in the lectures on molecular and cellular biology of cancer and genetic certification of tumors, subjects that are not taught at universities. A decision was then made to create a separate resource. The idea was subsequently realized with the help of the remote medical education platform (18+),” said Tatyana Nikolenko, Director of Infrastructure Projects at RUSNANO Management Company in 2008-2020.
She added that during the first two weeks after the resource became available on the portal of continuing medical education of the Ministry of Health of the Russian Federation, more than 800 oncologists had been trained, with each completing an average of five or six modules.