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LightOx and CPI partner for development of anti-cancer treatments

05 Jun 2019

Collaboration follows opening of the National Healthcare Photonics Centre to support SMEs.

A UK project aimed at developing phototherapy techniques for the treatment of skin and oral cancers has been launched, one of the first ventures involving the recently opened National Healthcare Photonics Centre.

The collaboration is between LightOx, a spin-out of Durham University; and CPI, an independent technology innovation center also based in the North East of England and part of the UK's High Value Manufacturing Catapult initiative. The National Healthcare Photonics Centre in County Durham is one of CPI's seven facilities.

LightOx, founded in 2016, has been developing light-based treatments and phototherapies to tackle disease and infection, alongside research into the synthesis of novel probe molecules for use in fluorescence and Raman techniques. The company recently announced that it had closed its current funding round, of undisclosed size but led by Dutch investment firm Meneldor, intended to support the commercialization of its products.

The principle behind LightOx's phototherapy materials involves targeting the therapeutic action to particular sites in the body, thanks to molecules which are localized where needed and which generate radical oxygen species when illuminated, killing the cells to which they have been attached. As well as offering a route to tackle skin disease or infections, the same approach could be used to treat colorectal cancer, addressing a significant current health concern in the UK.

"Existing photodynamic therapy materials can be poorly targeted and have undesirable side effects, including inflammation and nausea, or the need to avoid strong light," commented Tom Harvey, CPI's Healthcare Photonics Lead. "The LightOx molecules bond only to specific cells before illumination, enabling lower doses to be used and causing fewer problems. CPI is providing expertise in the formulation of creams, liquids and active pharmaceutical ingredients, to produce materials which can meet these criteria."

Light box development

CPI is also collaborating with LightOx in the company's other business area, the synthesis of probe molecules designed to tag specific biological markers for use in confocal fluorescence microscopy and Raman spectroscopy. In this case, the National Healthcare Photonics Centre's laser-scanning confocal microscopy system and fluorescence lifetime spectrometer have been used to characterize the absorption and emission spectra, fluorescence lifetimes, and quantum yield of these new materials.

"This is the vital data needed to ensure suitability with different laser systems and end uses," noted Harvey. "There are not many systems for assessing fluorescence lifetime in the UK, and the configuration of the microscope and lifetime spectrometer that we have is unique in this country."

The two organizations have already worked closely together on the development of a customized LED light box to LightOx specifications, able to deliver the controllable and calibrated light needed for validation of new compounds.

"For our new molecules we need to characterize their photophysics and fluorescence lifetimes, understanding their properties in terms of other products already on the market," commented Carrie Ambler, LightOx CSO. "The work with CPI is an essential part of this exercise for us, since the research essentially covers chemistry, biology and physics, and we did not have the exact expertise we needed at our disposal. The light box development began as means to create an essential piece of kit, but we have also sold a light box to a customer in Australia, and intend to make it available through a major distributor shortly."

The work between CPI and LightOx forms part of the Spotlight program, a collaborative project delivered by CPI and Durham University and funded by the European Regional Development Fund. Spotlight supports SMEs in the region during early-stage proof-of-concept research and the scaling-up of photonics technologies, in order to accelerate commercialization into the healthcare sector.

Regional center of excellence

The long-term goal of the National Healthcare Photonics Centre is the creation of an active photonics cluster in the region, based around CPI's facilities and its network of collaborations.

"We are already working with a first group of medical photonics companies developing specific devices used for diagnosis or treatment, and also with companies who may not necessarily have been active in the medical instrument market before but are now looking to enter that sector," said Harvey.

"CPI involvement can extend beyond the technology, and include assistance with economic matters or with clinical trial planning, as well as introductions to clinicians and validation. We have strong links with relevant healthcare networks, especially here in the North East region, and the Spotlight program has funding available to assist SME healthcare companies navigate a path in this heavily regulated sector."

Non-photonics companies are also set to benefit, for example by taking advantage of the pharmaceutical manufacturing capability available at CPI’s National Biologics Manufacturing Centre and its new Medicines Manufacturing Innovation Centre. Photonics technology can be used for process control, quality control and validation in this sector, or for suitable treatment of the materials used in manufacture.

"CPI has grown to employ more than 400 people and the National Healthcare Photonics Centre is expected to directly create a number of new jobs, with additional local posts created around the center through our work," commented Harvey. "The goal is to build a center of excellence in healthcare biophotonics, to benefit the whole of the UK."

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