Taking precise aim: Fighting the cancer pandemic with patented technologies

Researchers and medical professionals are joining forces in fighting the growing cancer pandemic. Current statistics are nothing short of alarming: In the year 2012 alone, over 13 million new cases of cancer were reported worldwide. And these numbers are increasing at a fast rate.

By the year 2030, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) expects up to 22.2 million new cases per year, a 75% increase from 2008.

Meanwhile, cancer - especially breast, lung and digestive tract cancers - remains one of the leading causes of death worldwide: The World Health Organisation (WHO) projects over 13 million annual deaths from cancer by the year 2030.

The battle against cancer also has politicians up in arms: In 2008, the European Union created the European partnership for Action Against Cancer. The main goal of this cooperative effort is lowering the number of new cases per year through preventive measures across EU member states by 15% (510,000 cases) by 2020.

For stronger weapons to eradicate the disease, medical professionals are increasingly resorting to the latest achievements from the field of research. A whole slew of novel therapies offer greatly improved treatment outcomes with far less severe side effects than conventional radiation therapy, chemotherapy and surgical procedures.

The list of ground-breaking patented inventions against cancer also includes the following winners and finalists of the EPO's European Inventor Award:

Patrick Couvreur

Patrick Couvreur: Nano capsules for cancer medicines

Finalist, European Inventor Award 2013 (Research)

Conventional chemotherapy overwhelms the immune system with cellular toxins, creating potentially serious side effects. Coated in "nano capsules" composed of slowly dissolving bio-polymers - 70-times smaller than red blood cells - a new generation of cancer medicine targets tumour sites directly.

This breakthrough was achieved by French researcher Patrick Couvreur at the Université Paris-Sud, whose minuscule capsules - only 10 to 1,000 nanometres in size - allow for significantly higher dosages of anti-cancer drugs. The nano capsules from Couvreur's laboratory are up to 10-times more efficient than conventional chemotherapies, all the while significantly reducing the impact on healthy cells.

Yves Jongen and team

Yves Jongen: Proton radiation therapy for cancer treatments

Finalist, European Inventor Award 2013 (Lifetime achievement)

Conventional X-ray therapy tends to wreak havoc on healthy tissue due to the imprecise scattering of radiation. Much more precise and effective radiation dosages can be administered with a novel particle accelerator for medical applications, the "cyclotron". Thanks to engineer Yves Jongen at the Catholic University of Louvain, Belgium, therapeutic use of a smaller and more cost-efficient cyclotron has entered into clinical practice at treatment centres around the world. His patented invention lowered the cost  from €100 million per device to around €24 million and has so far been used in treating over 21,000 patients.

Leigh Canham Leigh Canham: Silicon for biomedical applications

Finalist, European Inventor Award 2011 (Small and medium-sized enterprises)

Silicon was long considered toxic to the human body. But in the year 1995, British researcher Leigh Canham made a ground-breaking discovery: Administered in the shape of nano structures, silicon is not only non-toxic, but also biodegradable for breakdown inside the human body. Thanks to its "honeycomb" molecular structure, Canham's "BioSilicon" creates hollow cavities that can be injected with anti-cancer drugs. As the silicon breaks down over a prolonged period of time, the drugs are gradually released inside the body - even targeted to specific organs.

Blanka RihovaBlanka Říhová: Synthetic polymeric drugs to combat cancer

Finalist, European Inventor Award 2011 (Lifetime achievement)

 By combining highly effective drugs with human antibodies, Czech researcher Blanka Říhová created a new generation of innovative anti-cancer medicines. The antibodies are able to "identify" cancerous cells for targeted delivery of anti-cancer medicines. As soon as these molecular compounds enter into cancer cells, they stop DNA replication, thereby halting tumour growth in its tracks. At the same time, the antibodies "mark" the tumorous cells to trigger the body's immune response, which in turn breaks down the cancer cells completely.

Albert Gelet et al.: Therapeutic prostate cancer treatment probe

Finalist, European Inventor Award 2010 (Research)

Prostate cancer is currently the most prevalent type of cancer among men in Europe. Despite tremendous improvements in survival rates, treatments tend to be rather aggressive, taking a heavy toll on patients. In the year 2000, a new chapter in prostate cancer treatment began thanks to advancements by researchers at the French Institut national de la santé et de la recherche médicale (INSERM): The patented minimally-invasive method for eradicating prostate cancer cells (HIFU-treatment) relies on highly focused ultrasound to kill cancerous cells without damaging surrounding tissue.

Napoleone FerraraNapoleone Ferrara et al.: Anti-VEGF antibodies

Finalist, European Inventor Award 2010 (Non-European countries)

Instead of poisoning cancer cells with toxic substances - as is the principle behind chemotherapies - the new medicines developed by researcher Napoleone Ferrara follow a radically different approach: The drugs manage to "cut off" the blood supply to tumour cells through the use of so-called Anti-VEGF antibodies - thereby "starving" the cancer. The breakthrough relies on Ferrara's discovery of the mechanisms used by tumorous cells to connect to the body's circulatory system. Under the name Avastin, the drugs have been marketed since 2004 while inspiring numerous follow-up studies and medicines based on the same principle.

Jürg ZimmermannJ. Zimmermann and B. Druker: Novel treatment against chronic myelogenous leukaemia (CML)

Winner, European Inventor Award 2009 (Industry)

For decades, chronic myelogenous leukaemia (CML) was considered one of the deadliest forms of cancer. This view changed radically, thanks to a new generation of medicines for treating the bone marrow disease, developed by researchers Jürg Zimmermann and Brian Druker. The basic principle: During the course of CML, the so-called Philadelphia Chromosome causes an overproduction of white blood cells. To stunt this process, Zimmermann and Druker developed a chemical "blocker." It is the main active ingredient in the drug named Glivec, which is now regarded as a "miracle cure" in the fight against CML.

Philip S. GreenPhilip S. Green: Teleoperator system for surgical robot

Winner, European Inventor Award 2008 (Non-European countries)

Introduced in the year 2000, the Da Vinci surgical robot unlocked an unprecedented level of precision for surgical procedures. Since then, the system has become practically indispensable in the fields of cardiology, urology and gynaecology. The underlying principle was invented by biomedical engineer Philip S. Green at Stanford University. Green's teleoperator system enables surgeons to remotely control the robot's four surgical arms from a control board outside the operating room. Which means a surgeon can start operating without "scrubbing" into sterile clothing! 

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