"Tagging the drug molecule and tracking it in the body"

The IUCT Oncopole welcomed world experts in nuclear imaging on April 1 and 2, 2015 in partnership with General Electric Healthcare.

L'IUCT Oncopole accueillait des experts mondiaux en imagerie nucléaire les 1er et 2 avril 2015 en partenariat avec la société General Electric Healthcare.

The objectives: 

  • to standardize image acquisition protocols for the first time;
  • to initiate French partnerships with foreign centers that use new-generation PET scanners in clinical research, particularly the Discovery IQ PET camera installed at the IUCT Oncopole ;
  • to set out future  lines of  research. 
During the first day, discussions centered on the question: how to reach agreement on the standards of measurement for acquiring images? Measures obtained with different PET scan devices differ significantly from one another, and this makes data comparison impossible. These differences must be overcome, particularly when working on tracers for new drugs, a line of research that is developing quickly  . " If, for the same clinical study we obtain 30% drug efficacy in Toulouse and 50% drug efficacy in an Italian center, it is not sensible   to share our work under these conditions " explains Professor Frederic Courbon, Head of IUCT-Oncopole imaging department. Having the same measuring instrument   is the prerequisite for any future discussions on clinical trials. One of the first actions will be to manufacture a high-tech phantom (model) that will serve as a unique basis for the development of standards.

Europe has standards on quality processes, but work is still pending to ensure reproducibility of inter-center images. This is the second stage on which the community of experts will focus. 

For clinical studies, the discussions focused on two areas of research:

  • further investigation into what is becoming more and more common, namely the use of the PET examination for early assessment  of the efficacy of new drugs, " the process is simple: once the drug is in the body, we observe the metabolism of the cancer cell. If its sugar consumption decreases, we deduce that it is becoming weaker   and that the drug is therefore having an effect ".
  • developing the tagging of new drug candidates to track their distribution in the body. "  We are at the very beginning in world terms. It requires a coordinated and complex continuum* of all the stakeholders involved, observes   Frederic Courbon. It consists of making the drug molecule radioactive and tagging it to track its distribution in the body, to see if it reaches its target. "

The first working partnerships will be launched with  the United States, Italy, Spain and India.  The development of radiopharmaceuticals (tracers) is progressing rapidly.  The studies are more and more targeted and involve small cohorts of patients that are sometimes insufficient to validate a clinical trial; hence the need join forces with other centers in order to have enough data available.

Experts in oncology, and also in neurology, cardiology or in infectious diseases met on Thursday, April 2 to discuss the development of new tracers and the quality process.   

*The continuum needs to include : 

  • high-technology experimental platforms  ;
  • industrialists who manufacture tracers ;
  • basic and translational research teams  ;
  • clinical research services (approved to develop early tests) with a data management center ;
  • chemists,  radiopharmacists, physicists  ;
  • a nuclear pharmacy for clinical trials.

One of the special features of the Oncopole  campus is that it groups together all these skills and platforms.

What is the role of the PET Scan in oncology ?

The PET scan, widely used for diagnosis and monitoring of cancer tumors, combines two technologies : anatomical imaging by the scanner and functional or metabolic imaging by PET which displays various activities of cellular metabolism depending on the molecule injected beforehand (tracer). Tracers can bind to tumor cells and make them visible on PET scan images, and also bind to a drug molecule to track its distribution in the body.  The enormous advances in molecular and cellular biology  will greatly facilitate the discovery of new tracers.