UCL Cancer Institute


First patient treated with microscopic beads pre-loaded with a targeted cancer drug

11 October 2017

Researchers from the UCL Cancer Institute and the specialist healthcare company BTG plc have begun the first clinical trial of an experimental treatment for liver cancer using X-ray imageable microscopic beads loaded with a targeted anti-cancer drug placed directly in the liver.


The trial will evaluate delivering a precisely controlled dose of vandetanib, an inhibitor of multiple tumour growth pathways, directly to the arteries feeding a liver tumour by pre-loading the drug on a radiopaque bead which can be visualised on CT scans. Although still at a very early stage of research, the development programme aims to improve current treatments for patients with primary liver cancer and metastatic Colorectal Cancer (mCRC).

The current standard of care for liver cancer patients is known as transarterial chemoembolisation, or TACE, and involves injecting beads through an artery using a microcatheter to block the tumour-feeding blood vessels, starving the tumour of oxygen and nutrients. These beads are usually loaded with a chemotherapy drug that is released over time directly at the tumour site, avoiding exposure to the rest of the body and reducing side effects. Despite advances in this procedure, liver cancer remains one of the most common causes of cancer death worldwide .

To improve the treatment of patients with primary liver cancer and mCRC, the beads used in the VEROnA study (vandetanib-eluting radiopaque beads in patients with resectable liver malignancies) are pre-loaded with a multi-kinase inhibitor called vandetanib. Vandetanib targets genetic alterations and cell-signalling pathways that lead to liver cancer growth, recurrence and metastasis. These pathways, including vascular endothelial growth factors (VEGF-A and C) and epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR), stimulate new tumour blood and lymph vessel growth and aid the development of solid tumours. They may also promote spread of the cancer to other organs and inhibit the body’s own immune response to the tumour. A phase II trial of vandetanib in patients with advanced liver cancer showed some promise , and provided a strong rationale for the loco-regional delivery of this drug. 

Targeted cancer treatment

Professor Ricky Sharma, Chair of Radiation Oncology at UCL and the study’s primary investigator, said: “The incidence and mortality rates for primary liver cancer continue to climb and it is vital that we explore new treatment approaches. This research is exciting because it is the first time we have been able to pre-load a targeted cancer drug on to an imageable bead, to deliver the targeted drug in high doses to the cancer and see exactly how well the beads reach the target we have defined.  By refining the treatment using information from this clinical trial, we may be able to develop a liver-directed treatment as a superior alternative to the rather poorly tolerated drug treatments we currently offer patients with this type of cancer.”

Professor Sharma on the VEROnA trial

The vandetanib-eluting bead was developed in collaboration with Centre Hospitalier Universitaire Vaudois (CHUV), Lausanne, Switzerland and Dr. Alban Denys, professor at the department of medical radiology at CHUV. Vandetanib-eluting beads use BTG’s recently developed radiopaque bead platform.  Beads that can be visualised with CT or fluoroscopic imaging offer the advantage of providing visible confirmation of bead location during and after the embolisation procedure, enabling real-time adjustments to optimise patient treatment.

The VEROnA study is sponsored by BTG and supported by the Cancer Research UK Experimental Cancer Medicines Centre and the UCL Cancer Institute and the National Institute for Health Research University College London Hospitals Biomedical Research Centre.  

Further information

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UCL Cancer Institute

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