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EM Imaging develops optical agent to detect CRC cancer earlier

23 Sep 2015

Signs licensing agreement with GE Healthcare; EM can now complete development of agent.

Edinburgh Molecular Imaging (“EM Imaging”), which develops and commercializes novel optical imaging agents, has signed an exclusive global license for a novel optical imaging agent that it says could improve the detection of early-stage colorectal (bowel) cancer.

EM Imaging signed the licensing agreement with GE Healthcare and will now complete the development of its imaging agent known as EMI-137, which can help doctors identify the cancer. In a recent scientific study, reported in Nature Medicine, the EMI-137 agent allowed doctors to see more early-stage colorectal cancer and precancerous tumors, which can then easily be removed via colonoscopy. The company says that conventional screening with a colonoscope, which is currently the most common investigative method, can miss up to 25% of precancerous growths, especially smaller, flat lesions.

Dr James Hardwick, the lead investigator, commented, “Of the 47 precancerous polyps detected in this study, 12 were missed using a standard colonoscope. This underlines how unreliable this method can be, and we therefore welcome life-saving new technology like EMI-137. This agent has the potential to make polyps light up like light bulbs, allowing clinicians to detect and remove more polyps, prevent more cancers and save more lives.”

Evidence that colorectal cancer can be prevented by the removal of pre-cancerous lesions and polyps is strong. The EMI-137 agent can help doctors more easily identify these suspicious lesions, take a sample (biopsy) or remove the lesion completely. Colorectal cancer is the second most common cause of cancer in women and the third most common in men, and is a major cause of death.

Agent and study technique

The Phase I/IIa study, described in the Nature Medicine article, involved 35 subjects (20 healthy volunteers and 15 patients with high risk of CRC) and it demonstrated that optical molecular imaging using the fluorescent agent specific for c-Met is feasible and safe.

Fluorescence colonoscopy in patients receiving intravenous EMI-137 enabled the visualization of all neoplastic polyps that were visible with white light, and additionally, detected previously missed polyps that were not visible with white light alone, said the research team: “This approach enables the detection of polyps missed by other techniques.”

EMI-137 is a water-soluble compound consisting of a 26–amino acid cyclic peptide, conjugated to a fluorescent cyanine dye, that binds to human tyrosine kinase c-Met, a receptor frequently overexpressed during cancer growth. EMI-137 has the potential on intravenous administration to image a wide range of cancers including, breast cancer, oesophageal cancer, ovarian cancer, thyroid cancer, bile duct carcinoma and lung cancer, due to its specific targeting of the c-Met–receptor.

Dr Neville Young, Programme Manager at the UK's Colorectal Therapies Healthcare Technologies Cooperative, said, "The NIHR funded Colorectal Therapies HTC, based at the University of Leeds, UK, drives a national network of clinicians and academics who are funded to support the development innovative new technologies that have the potential to benefit patients affected by colorectal disease. We are excited to be working with EM Imaging to help demonstrate both the cost effectiveness and clinical efficacy of their new colorectal tumour tagging peptide. This technology offers the possibility to identify and remove more easily any cancerous polyps in a patient undergoing a colonoscopy.”

About the Author

Matthew Peach is a contributing editor to optics.org.

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