- “Cancer, as we now know, is a disease caused by the uncontrolled growth of a single cell. This growth is unleashed by mutations—changes in DNA that specifically affect genes that incite unlimited cell growth…The secret to battling cancer, then, is to find means to prevent these mutations from occurring in susceptible cells, or to find means to eliminate the mutated cells without compromising normal growth. The conciseness of that statement belies the enormity of the task.” The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee (2010)
Nowhere is the dilemma of cancer research more profound than in understanding and interrupting the metastatic process, which accounts for 90% of the millions of cancer deaths each year. While considerable progress has been made in the decades-long war on cancer, there is a striking lack of good news in slowing down — let alone stopping — the metastatic process in solid tumor cancers.
Before 2014 the precise molecular biology mechanisms that guide the establishment of metastatic tumors was unknown. But then an MIT animal study concluded that CTCs emit signals which attract platelets, which then attract granulocytes (a subset of white blood cells) to form metastatic niches within two hours.
Significantly, that study also showed that interfering with the signal pathways for either CTCs, platelets or granulocytes stops the metastatic process.
On a parallel track, numerous clinical studies demonstrate that a reduction in the absolute number of CTCs in a patient’s blood correlates with favorable overall survival. This proposition holds true for all major types of cancer over a range of different drug regimens. In other words, if a patient’s CTC count drops from a “danger zone” of, say, 10 CTCs before a given cancer treatment begins, to a “safe zone” of less than 5 CTCs, they will live longer.
The ViatarTM Therapeutic Oncopheresis System is a new medical technology based on the principle of removing the first essential element in the formation of metastatic tumors: CTCs.
It utilizes mechanical filtration of whole blood as the therapy to remove CTCs, and a dosage regimen that will seek to achieve and maintain an absolute number of CTCs for a given cancer type within the “safe zone” which delimits the probability of favorable survival.
Our strategic goals for the ViatarTM Therapeutic Oncopheresis System are, first, to make metastatic cancer a chronic rather than fatal disease and, second, to democratize the cost of cancer care as compared to the very expensive new immunotherapies. Toward that end, once this product is commercialized we plan to periodically revise our pricing schedule downward so that the ViatarTM Therapeutic Oncopheresis System is affordable by healthcare systems and a broad range of cancer patients.
How It Works
Much like dialysis removes toxins from the blood, the ViatarTM Therapeutic Oncopheresis System employs mechanical filtration to purify a cancer patient’s blood of CTCs, but without the side effects of other cancer therapies and at a much lower cost. In bench testing, it does so by removing over 95% of CTCs using a proprietary method that indiscriminately separates tumor cells based on size and deformability (rather than the selective targeting which characterizes the new immunotherapy drugs).
Upcoming Clinical Studies
Through upcoming pilot and pivotal clinical studies of breast, prostate and gastric cancer patients, we will determine whether a therapeutic regimen of three times per week, for up to 24 weeks, will suffice to drive and maintain a cancer patient’s CTC count in the “safe zone” that has been statistically shown to improve overall survival; or whether more or less frequent treatments would be advisable.