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Radioactive scorpion venom deemed safe cancer treatment

June 26, 2006
Special to World Science

Scientists say they have helped establish the safety of a bizarre new treatment for an aggressive, essentially incurable cancer called high-grade brain glioma. More than 17,000 cases are diagnosed in the United States every year.

The treatment is based on findings that the venom in the yellow Israeli scorpion contains a molecule that attaches itself selectively to the tumor cells. 

Health physicists in a study used a compound called TM-601, a synthetic version of the molecule. The molecule, a protein, was bound to a radioactive substance called I-131 believed to kill glioma cells. When injected into the blood, if things work as hoped, the radioactive venom protein travels to the brain and attaches to the glioma cells, and the I-131 releases radiation that kills them. 

Alan M. Jackson of the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit, Mich. is slated to discuss the findings on June 28 at the annual meeting of the Health Physics Society in Providence, R.I. Jackson said he and his colleagues have established safe procedures for the therapy in trials with three human patients at Henry Ford who received a weekly dose. 

Patients could safely return home several hours after the procedure, according to Jackson, and their families would be exposed to no more radiation than is typical with a thyroid cancer patient going home after treatment. Patients showed no evidence of adverse reactions, Jackson reports, adding that 54 patients nationwide are currently in investigational trials for the therapy. 

The drug’s developer, Cambridge, Mass.-based TransMolecular Inc., reported in 2004 that a study involving 18 patients, the drug treatment was associated with an increase in survival time from a median of 4.6 to 6.3 months.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2003 gave the drug “Fast Track” status, according to TransMolecular. This means the agency would expedite review of the therapy in light of a significant unmet need for glioma treatment.

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