Applying new chemistry to cancer treatment

Fuzionaire Diagnostics turned to the Research Facilities Navigator to find expert collaborators to help bring a revolutionary new technology to market

Olivia Carey, March 3, 2021

Fuzionaire Diagnostics was born out of one entrepreneur’s dream to make medical imaging more accurate and accessible.

When Anton Toutov was a PhD candidate working in Nobel Prize winner Robert Grubbs’ lab at the California Institute of Technology, he and his research team developed a new way of making and breaking chemical bonds.

Toutov figured out a way to take Fluorine-18 (18F), a radioactive atom commonly used in Positron Emission Tomography (PET), and efficiently attach it to molecules used to trace disease in the body. His new method uses cheaper and more sustainable materials like potassium and silicon, instead of the expensive and toxic metals normally used, such as palladium, platinum and gold.

Now Fuzionaire Diagnostics’ Chief Science Officer, Toutov has been looking for ways to apply this revolutionary technology in PET imaging to a range of diseases — including in the detection and diagnosis of cancer — and to accelerate the discovery of new therapies for those diseases.

To validate his technology, he turned to the Sherbrooke Molecular Imaging Centre, listed on the Research Facilities Navigator.

“Sherbrooke has a number of clinical candidates in their pipeline and they’re especially good at oncology, which is a big field of interest for Fuzionaire Diagnostics. They know exactly how to bring new radiopharmaceuticals into the clinic,” says Toutov.

For PET imaging, chemists often use a molecule called 18F-fluorodeoxyglucose (FDG), a radiotracer that attaches itself to organs that use glucose as a source of energy in the body. Areas with a higher concentration of glucose (FDG) can pinpoint where cancer tumours are developing.

The problem with this method is that FDG links to all parts of the body that metabolize glucose instead of highlighting the disease only.

“What we would really like to do is take a whole host of disease-specific molecules, hundreds of them, and create targeted radiotracers that would only go after the suspected diseased tissue, compared to FDG that goes everywhere,” says Toutov. “Our technology at Fuzionaire Diagnostics streamlines that whole process and makes it easier, safer, quicker and less expensive to make targeted radiotracers.”

Attaching a radioactive atom like Fluorine-18 to a new molecule that can trace certain parts of a disease is a challenge because its radioactivity wears off quickly over time. This challenge has already been solved for the very simple FDG molecule, but there are other molecules that could be much more effective that haven’t been discovered yet.

Researchers at the Sherbrooke Molecular Imaging Centre will work with Fuzionaire Diagnostics to find the combination of molecules that could lead to new, more accurate and more broadly used tracers. 

Brigitte Guérin, an expert in the design and synthesis of radiotracers in PET imaging at the Centre, says the company’s new technology could represent an important market in PET imaging.

“Fluorine-18 is the radioisotope most used in PET imaging because it’s easy and cheap to produce,” says Guérin. “It would be very interesting if we could develop a technology to help to attach 18F to molecules more efficiently.”

Guérin adds that her Sherbrooke lab currently uses radiometals to create new tracers, but this specialized technology cannot be implemented in every lab because of the high cost of metals and equipment required.

Sherbrooke’s facility is one of the few in Canada that has the expertise and equipment that allows researchers to conduct pre-clinical testing of medical imaging technologies all the way through to use in humans.

“We wanted a lab that had capabilities throughout that entire pipeline. So coming upon Sherbrooke was quite a find,” says Toutov.

When businesses require research expertise or specialized equipment, the Research Facilities Navigator, Canada’s directory of research labs, can help them find and connect with experts.

Sherbrooke and its researchers also stand to benefit from the collaboration with Fuzionaire Diagnostics by playing a key role in the development of this revolutionary medical imaging technology, including through scientific development, publications and intellectual property.

“International collaborations contribute to promoting our imaging centre’s reputation of excellence in research,” says Guérin.

As a core scientific team of four, California-based Fuzionaire Diagnostics looks to highly-skilled researchers like Guérin to advance its science and business.

“Nuclear medicine is such a specialized field that it makes sense for us to partner with experts who already have access to the necessary state-of-the-art biomedical equipment, cyclotrons, animal facilities and other infrastructure. Building out these capabilities in-house would simply take too long,” says Toutov. Cyclotrons, which generate the radioactive isotopes, in particular, are large and highly specialized. “Sherbrooke already has all of this critical instrumentation and facilities, including world-class personnel, so it is a natural fit,” he adds.

Fuzionaire Diagnostics is currently in the pre-clinical stage of development, but Toutov says the company has its sights on clinical trials in the near future.

“Our joint work with innovative health researchers in this cutting-edge Canadian lab is dedicated to improving the lives of patients in North America and around the world,” says Toutov.

Are you looking for research support to move your business forward? Contact an expert through the Research Facilities Navigator today.

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