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Cadmium-free quantum dots tested for pancreatic cancer imaging

05 Jul 2017

'VIVODOTS' project backed by Innovate UK funding and involves University College London academic team.

Nanoco, the University of Manchester spin-out specializing in cadmium-free quantum dots (CFQDs), is involved in a new project to improve diagnostic imaging of some of the deadliest forms of cancer – including pancreatic tumors.

Better known for their potential in displays technology, the CFQDs can also be used as fluorescent biomarkers and have already featured in early studies for in vivo mapping of breast cancer and sentinel lymph nodes.

Cancer imaging with UCL
In partnership with a team at University College London (UCL), Nanoco will work on the “VIVODOTS” project funded by Innovate UK. Nanoco is set to receive just under £0.5 million to support the effort, which it says will cover approximately 60 per cent of the costs that it expects to incur.

“The proposed VIVODOTS nano-device will enable more effective pre-, intra- and post-operative management of pancreatic cancers, resulting in better surgical treatment, higher cure rates, and better quality of life for survivors,” Nanoco announced. “Later development should lead to the extrapolation of the same concept to other types of deadly malignancies.”

Nanoco’s CEO Michael Edelman added: “In this exciting project, we will be working with UCL to develop a groundbreaking cancer imaging therapeutic nano-device that will enable better detection and treatment of lethal types of tumors, particularly pancreatic tumors.

“The design will be based on the use of biocompatible and fluorescent quantum dot nanoparticles equipped with specific cancer targeting molecules; a major innovation that has already proved successful in our initial trials.”

Because cadmium is highly toxic, biomarkers based on more traditional cadmium selenide quantum dots are not viable, and Nanoco has said previously that tests on specially coated versions of its CFQDs have shown them to be biocompatible and benign.

“We have demonstrated that the new quantum dots are stable in common biological buffers and can be conjugated to active ligands and proteins,” the company reported in its latest interim financial results presentation, adding that probes based on the technology could aid early diagnosis of bladder and pancreatic cancers – two of the most difficult to diagnose.

Commercial supply deal
News of the Innovate UK grant award comes just a few days after Nanoco revealed that it had received its first commercial order to supply CFQD resin material for its primary market focus – flat-panel display (FPD) applications.

Taiwan-listed Wah Hong Industrial, which placed the order, is one of the world’s largest producers of optical films and sheets for displays, and will convert the resin into CFQD films for an OEM customer to use in television and PC monitor production.

Those TVs and monitors are expected to appear on the market before the end of 2017, with Wah Hong’s president C P Yeh saying: “We recently invested in a new, wider coating line that will enable films large enough to fit 100-inch TVs to be produced and we remain on track to commence production of CFQD films for our customers during the second half of 2017.”

Edelman described the order as a significant milestone for London-listed Nanoco, which has for several years extolled the virtues of its cadmium-free technology in a market where cadmium-containing materials have been widely deployed to enhance LCD display performance to similar levels achieved by organic LED (OLED) screens but at a much lower cost.

However, with regulators in European particularly keen to further restrict the use of cadmium, market forces appear to moving in Nanoco’s favor.

“In light of increasing global regulations restricting the use of cadmium, including the imminent ban by the European Commission of cadmium in display products, manufacturers across the world are seeking more sustainable solutions that still deliver outstanding color performance,” Edelman said.

OEM interest
Confident that the scale of orders for the company’s CFQDs will increase in the next few months, the Nanoco CEO revealed that the technology is now being evaluated by 13 “major OEMs”, for 16 different TV and monitor programs. The OEM figure has risen from nine in the space of just the past three months.

Having previously worked under an exclusive deal with Dow Chemical, since March 2016 Nanoco has been working to secure licensees for the CQFD technology on a non-exclusive basis. Wah Hong and German chemicals giant Merck were among the first new licensees following the strategic switch.

Despite the positive noises, the relative lack of commercial impact so far saw Nanoco post an operating loss of £6.4 million on sales of $0.7 million for the six months ending January 31, 2017 – the most recent trading period for which accounts are available. Last October the firm reported an annual loss of £12.5 million.

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