Purdue-developed imaging drug allowed surgeons to find additional cancer lesions

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Ovarian cancer patient Carol Giandonato admits to being apprehensive when her oncologist told her he wanted to make her cancer cells turn fluorescent green.

“Am I going to glow in the dark? Will I be green?” she asked him.

Her surgeon explained that when viewing the cancer site, the cancerous lesions would be illuminated with near-infrared light during surgery.

Using this approach, her surgeon was able to find a hidden tumor that would have otherwise gone undetected. Giandonato was one of the first patients for a new drug designed to help surgeons find ovarian cancer tumors and cells — that imaging agent was just approved Monday (November 29) by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The drug will be released with the brand name Cytalux. It was invented at Purdue University and will be released by On Target Laboratories.

The imaging agent is delivered via an IV injection between one and nine hours before the surgery for ovarian cancer. The fluorescent imaging agent binds to the cancer cells, allowing surgeons to find additional tumors in 27% of the patients, which would have otherwise been left behind, according to results of the Phase 3 clinical trial.

The drug is the first tumor-targeted fluorescent agent for ovarian cancer to be approved by the FDA.

Philip Low (rhymes with “now”), Purdue University’s Presidential Scholar for Drug Discovery and the Ralph C. Corley Distinguished Professor of Chemistry, is an inventor of the drug. He said that when a surgeon turns on the near-infrared light used in surgery, “Those lesions light up like stars against a night sky.”

“In the pivotal ovarian cancer trials, surgeons were able to find additional malignant tissue or improve the practice of surgery in 27% of all the patients,” he said. “It seems to me that future surgeries are going to very heavily rely on this technology.”

Dr. Phillip Low
A new drug just approved by the FDA will allow physicians to identify additional cancerous lesions, which otherwise would have been left behind, in up to 27% more patients during ovarian cancer surgery. Philip Low, Purdue University's Presidential Scholar for Drug Discovery and Ralph C. Corley Distinguished Professor of Chemistry, was an inventor. (Purdue University photo/John Underwood)

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