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Cancer accounts for nearly 25% of deaths in the US. In 2005, there were 559,312 cancer deaths in the US. The risk of developing cancer is 1-in-2 for men and 1-in-3 for women.
There is no offical cure for cancer. The standard cancer treatments are surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. New cancer drugs are constantly being developed, but their effectiveness is dubious. Several cancer drugs cost up to $100,000 a year but have been shown to increase patient survival by 1-2 month. The main limitation is the inability to deliver drugs to the desired target, which in turn leads to undesired complications, such as deaths of healthy cells or multi-drug resistance.
Research being carried out in the field of Nanotechnology to Treat Cancer Because of its unique size (1-100nm) and large surface-to-volume ratios, nanotechnology offers unique solutions to overcome hurdles in cancer therapies. Several research programs has focused efforts on developing nanodevices for early diagnostics of cancer, delivery of cancer drugs to cancer cells, and cancer surveillance One of most comprehensive research program is the National Cancer Institute (NCI) Alliance for Nanotechnology in Cancer, [http://nano.cancer.gov], which consists of eight Centers of Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence (CCNE), twelve platform projects, and four interdisciplinary training programs across the nation. The Alliance invests 40-50 $million a year to develop both the therapeutic and diagnostics aspects of cancer nanotechnology. One of the highlights of the Alliance achievements is the work led by Robert Langer, a Chemical Engineering professor at MIT. Langer, who has previously revolutionized the fileds of drug delivery and tissue engineering, collaborated with Omid Farokhzad, Assistant Professor of Anaesthesia at Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston, USA, to test the effect of aptamer-targeted nanoparticles for treatment of prostate cancer. Aptamers are RNA-based targeting moieties, which bind to the antigens and guide the particles towards the tumors (PNAS 103, 6315–6320; 2006).. The nanoparticles then bind to tumor cells, gain entry into the cells, and release their contentsthe anticancer drug docetaxel. Animal experiments demonstrate that the tumor volume was substantially reduced following the injection of these docetaxelencapsulated apatamer-conjugated nanoparticles. Futhermore, the experiments also a much lower level of toxicity in comparison to current chemotherapy treatments.
Several startup companies have spawned up in the last few years, with the aim to translate academic discovery into commercial sucesses. Recently, Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval of Abraxane (ABI-007), an albumin-taxol nanoparticle for the treatment of breast cancer, has opened the doors for commerical development of nanoscale drug delivery devices. According to Piotr Grodzinski, Director of the NCI's Alliance in an interview by Forbes: "Today, there are 20 to 30 small companies in both diagnostics and therapeutics. A handful of those are in clinical trials, and we expect another three or four will file applications this year." Companies like Avidimer Therapeutics, Liquidia Technologies, Insert Therapeutics, Intradigm, BIND Biosciences, and Carigent are working on various approaches to develope multi-purpose nanoscale delivery platforms that enable integration of several therapeutics, targeting technologies and other desirable
functionalities. Many of these companies take advantage of products that combine established drugs with materials already used in FDA-approved therapies to avoid FDA-approval hurdles. However, as nanomedicne moves from university laboratory to clinical setting, FDA will need to come up with new approval strategies for these novel technologies.