O’Toole helps develop, license cancer treatment

July 20, 2018

Headshot of Dr. Martin O'Toole

Dr. Martin O’Toole, assistant professor of bioengineering, is part of a team of researchers who recently licensed their intellectual property to Qualigen Inc., a medical technology company in Carlsbad, CA. Working with Drs. Paula Bates and Tariq Malik, O’Toole was part of the team that designed an anti-nucleolin agent-conjugated nanoparticle, which serves as a delivery mechanism for an aptamer-based anticancer drug that can be used to treat virtually any type of cancer.

Bates discovered the aptamer, AS1411, that interferes with cancer cells without damaging healthy cells. When clinical trials met with mixed, but promising results, Bates and her colleague Malik began their work with O’Toole, who in 2008 was then completing his post-doctoral studies. The low efficacy in human trials indicated that either the aptamer was quickly excreted or that it might break down before reaching the cancer, ergo the need for a delivery platform. He was tasked with attaching AS1411 to a nanoparticle that could serve as an scaffold for the DNA.

“If you put this on a nanoparticle, it’s more effective and more potent. So we’ve been developing this, but they could only make a little of this as a time,” said O’Toole. “In our lab, we’ve developed a way to make lots of these nanoparticles reproducibly and cost effectively.”

The idea was initially to utilize gold particles, which are easy to control and relatively benign. As a secondary attribute, the use of nanoparticles as the delivery platform allows opportunities to add other agents into the mix and coating, e.g. cancer drugs that can be administered as an auxiliary objective to aid in the process.

With AS1411 already through phase one of clinical trials, the short term goal is to continue forward with the aid of their industrial partner at Qualigen Inc., through further testing. Qualigen, who have licensed several patents related to this property, will oversee the continued research and development of the aptamer and nanoparticles, including regulatory approval and commercialization of the treatment.

Once trials have been completed, the aptamer has a chance of being utilized on test subjects, which ultimately the team hopes to see in cancer treatment centers where it can have the most positive impact on the community.

“It’s exciting, because it could potentially work with most types of cancer. We just want to find the best formulation of this stuff," said O’Toole. "The most effective formulation. We can change the particle size, how much DNA or other agents are coated in there. That’s the next goal is to figure out what is the optimum medicine. It’s nice to have this chance.”