Chemotherapy: it is now possible to measure the efficacy of 2 drugs 'live'

Researchers at Ca' Foscari University of Venice and the IRCCS (Scientific Institutes for Research, Hospitalisation and Health Care) Cancer Institute in Aviano (in the province of Pordenone) have invented an innovative method for monitoring the effectiveness of two chemotherapy drugs in real time. The invention, jointly patented by the University and the Friuli Region-based institute, will make it possible to optimise the doses administered according to the patient's response, limiting side effects and improving therapy.

Two drugs are involved: Imatinib, used to treat specific forms of leukaemia, and Irinotecan, a broad-spectrum drug used mainly against colorectal cancer. A tiny amount of plasma, 125 millionths of a litre (the equivalent of half a drop), is all that is needed to measure the concentration of these drugs in the blood, detecting either a potentially toxic overdose or an ineffective dosage.

The team from the two institutes has developed an electrochemical method that is able to detect traces of the drug in the plasma without the possible interference of other molecules, produced by the metabolism of the drug itself or by the intake of other drugs. Thanks to this patented method, it will now be possible to develop handheld and easy-to-use devices for drug monitoring.

The healthcare professional will be able to easily measure the level of drugs circulating in the blood in just a few minutes and in the patient's room. Today, on the other hand, these analyses are carried out in laboratories by specialised personnel, require complex and expensive equipment, and take a relatively long time to receive an answer on the efficacy of the drug.

“The individual response to a drug depends on many variables," explains Salvatore Daniele, Professor of Analytical Chemistry at the Department of Molecular Sciences and Nano Systems at Ca' Foscari University. "This is why we have devised a method for verifying in real time that the response really does fall within the levels expected by the therapy and, if it differs, for modifying the dosage. In this way, it will be possible to adopt patient-tailored treatments, according to the body's reaction".

Professor Daniele led a team from Ca' Foscari University composed of Gregorio Bonazza, a recently graduated PhD student in Chemistry who focused the work of his doctoral thesis on patents, and Federico Polo, who has now become a researcher at Ca' Foscari University after a three-year work experience at the CRO, in collaboration with the research group at the CRO in Aviano composed by Stefano Tartaggia and led by Dr. Giuseppe Toffoli.

In order to transform the invention into a new tool available to healthcare facilities, an industrial partner is now needed to drive forward the technical development of the device.