BAHRAIN: A new chemotherapy drug that uses nanotechnology to fight cancer without the typical side effects has been developed in Bahrain.
It delivers chemotherapy directly to tumors and is described as the first such anti-cancer drug that can be taken orally.
The medication has been developed by researchers at Arabian Gulf University (AGU), but must first undergo clinical trials to determine its safety and effectiveness – a process that could take 15 years before it can be sold to patients.
However, even if it made it through rigorous testing, it would still require significant investment from the pharmaceutical industry to make it available on a commercial scale, admitted associate professor Dr Khaled Al Greish, who led the research.
“Taxol, or chemotherapy drugs, are effective but toxic and hence we researched a way to deliver it using nano micilles (molecules suspended in liquid),” said the 47-year-old Egyptian researcher.
“Research in the field has been ongoing for years and there are 11 medicines sold in the market for cancer.
“But thus far there are no oral medicines available, so we made further modification and came up with the micilles.
“This ensures the taxol, kept inside the core of this delivery system, reaches the site of the tumor.
“I have developed this and have the intellectual property rights for this product, which makes the drug suitable for oral use as well.”
Dr Al Greish, whose findings have been published in the International Journal of Nanomedicine, says the targeted nature of his new drug meant that it did not have the side effects associated with traditional chemotherapy.
“There are many anti-cancer drugs in the market which are efficient, but there are safety issues,” Dr Al Greish told the GDN.
“We cannot give a single dose at one time to cure cancer, as it might kill the patient.
“Hence we have chemotherapy, which spaces out the medication and patients take it through various sessions.
“As we know, conventional chemotherapy spreads across the body and results in side effects like hair loss.
“What we need to do is engineer the medicine to be administered just to the tumor, so that it kills only the tumor and saves vital organs.
“Thus we developed a taxol that is a targeted anti-cancer chemotherapy using nanotechnology.”
Dr Al Greish moved to Bahrain six months ago and for his research led a core team that included four Bahraini technicians at AGU.
However, he also received support from experts in various departments at the university.
“There is a lot of successful research, but products have to go through clinical trials even before they can be tested on humans,” said Dr Al Greish.
“This could take up to 15 years or more and then there should be big pharmaceuticals to invest in getting it on the shelves, which could cost many millions.
“Very few products make it successfully through clinical trials and the investment depends on various factors, like the market size and profitability.
“I hope my product reaches the market one day, as it could be of help to many.”
Dr Al Greish, whose focus is on multiple tumors, has formerly worked in Japan where he was involved in medicines related to liver cancer.
He was previously based at New Zealand’s Ottago University and is an adjunct associate professor at University of Utah in the US, publishing more than 60 scholarly articles in his field of expertise.
The GDN reported last year that a new cancer vaccine engineered specifically for the genetic makeup of GCC patients was developed by AGU researchers Bahraini Dr Dana Naeem Ashoor and Kuwaiti Dr Maryam Hamad Marzouq.
However, it was said they needed anywhere between BD50 million and BD200m to conduct a series of clinical trials before it could be marketed to patients.