Wallonia can pride itself on harbouring some of the key players in the radiopharmaceutical sector. IRE/IRE-Elit, Trasis and ANMI – to name but three of those in the field – are innovative companies that are applying their know-how and experience to advance the use of radioisotopes in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. The BioWin cluster supports their endeavours by helping them obtain funding for innovative research projects from the Walloon Region. For example, this has aided IRE-Elit in the creation and marketing of two isotope generators.
Arming antibodies with isotopes
L’Institut National des Radioéléments (IRE) in Fleurus produces radioisotopes that are used, in particular, to create cancer treatments or to improve diagnosis. In recent years, IRE has participated in several BioWin cluster projects, acting as the coordinator for RadioTarget and as a partner in Gage.
RadioTarget was designed to develop and market a therapeutic radiopharmaceutical product to treat cancerous metastases of the liver. Valéry Host, Research & Development Department Manager clarifies the different fields of expertise that were brought together in the project: “First we had to identify the accessible target cells. We were able to do this using technology from the metastasis research laboratory at the Liège UCH university hospital. Then we had to work with a partner with the ability to develop the specific monoclonal antibodies that would target the liver metastases of the various cancers”. IRE-Elit’s contribution consisted of developing a technology capable of producing the radioisotope (in this case Rhenium-188) used to mark the monoclonal antibody.
Rheni EO is born
2 years into the project, IRE-Elit achieved the objective set by the cluster project. A production method for the radioactive substance was developed that met cGMP requirements. The product could be administered directly to patients by specialists to diagnose or treat cancerous illnesses.
Host: “The RadioTarget project gave us the impetus to finalise a marketable generator which we called Rheni Eo. The module created in the project is used to extract the dose from the generator and put it into a medium that is suitable for carrying out the linkage with the biological molecule.
Furthermore, thanks to the contacts made at events organised by the BioWin cluster and AWEX, the doors to international markets have opened up. The generator is now sold in radiopharmacies in France, China and Taiwan. Several clinical trials are under way in the two latter countries in various research centres”.
In France, the radioisotope is used in the treatment of primary liver cancers whilst, in China, the substance is used in the palliative treatment of the bone pain caused by metastases.
A quickly expanding portfolio
In parallel with the progress of the RadioTarget project, IRE-Elit has also been involved in Gage, a project led by radiopharma instrument company Trasis. This cluster project aimed to produce an integrated set of equipment to synthesise molecules marked with Gallium-68 that would be suitable for day-to-day clinical use and compliant with cGMP. This project has resulted in the creation of another generator, called Galli Eo, which produces the Gallium-68. An application for marketing authorisation has been submitted.
In the meantime, the generator is already in use in university centres, in particular, VUB and UCL. This innovative tool offers a more precise and more personalised cancer diagnosis.
Eventually, a Walloon radioisotope was created in the fight against cancer.
Helping the IRE grow
These research projects have supported IRE to expand their activities. By isolation and purifying products that are useful to nuclear medicine from amongst 300 fission products, they directly contribute to the treatment of 8 million patients each year, or 20.000 each day. While the organization was traditionally positioned upstream in the value chain of the conventional pharmaceutical industry, they aspired to expand. In 2010, IRE-Elit (Environment Life Science Technology) was founded to take a further step in the value chain, allowing them to market a radiopharmaceutical product themselves. Thanks to RadioTarget and Gage, this goal is closer than ever.
IRE – IRE Elit, Avenue de l’Espérance 1, 6220 Fleurus