CellFeed Medical’s technique combines stimulation by a low-charge electric field with chemotherapy in an attempt to eliminate malignant cancerous tumors. Clinical Cancer Research, published by the American Association for Cancer Research, will shortly publish an article written by Tel Aviv University human microbiology Prof. Yona Keisari and his colleagues.

It is not the first scientific article by Keisari, but it is the first on which a company is being founded.

CellFeed Medical is based on Keisari’s research over the past five years, which combined stimulation by a low-charge electric field with chemotherapy in an attempt to eliminate malignant tumors. The research team also included Tel Aviv University biophysicist Prof. Rafi Korenstein, and Sheba Medical Center at Tel-Hashomer biophysicist Dr. Yossi Rosenberg.

The three men watched how in five different models of cancerous growths in animals, the growths shrank and disappeared to varying degrees (“averaging 50%”). Furthermore, Keisari says, “The damage to the tumor stimulated an immune response against the tumor. In cases where the tumor had metastasized to the liver and lungs, the metastasis disappeared.”

Keisari explains that it was initially discovered that if you expose cells to a low-charge electric field, the cells become better able to absorb surrounding material. On this basis, it was hypothesized that when the cell is exposed to nearby chemotherapeutic material in a surrounding area that has undergone such electrical stimulation, the material will have a greater effect.

“Chemotherapy does not cure most tumors; it only retards their growth to some extent. In order to cure and get rid of the tumor, surgery or radiotherapy is currently required. Our treatment is as effective as surgery in eliminating the initial tumor. Its added value is the anti-cancer response it creates, which also affects the metastasis,” Keisari declares.

The technique has been tested on no fewer than five types of cancer: melanoma, intestinal cancer, carcinoma, prostate cancer, and breast cancer.

“Except for lung cancer, these types represent the possible range of tumors afflicting and causing mortality in human beings,” Keisare asserts. “I believe the issue of focus will be raised at a much later stage. Judging by what we’ve seen so far, virtually no type of cancer is able to withstand the initial treatment. The question is whether the treatment will stimulate the same immune response in humans that it does in rats. I think the first stage will operate in the same way, meaning that it will make the chemotherapy more effective. Where the metastases are concerned, however, it’s not certain whether humans will have the same immune response.”

From a technical standpoint, an electric stimulus requires the use of an electric pulsar, in which electrodes are installed. The device itself obviously exists; it must be calibrated differently, however, for each type of tumor. What must be invented separately for each of cancer is the applicators, the part that conducts the current, which is inserted into the tumor under either local or general anesthesia. “We built those,” Keisari says. The applicator diameter is 0.5-1.5cm, and must be designed differently for each type of tumor.

Keisari explains that the idea patient initially is one who has a tumor which cannot be operated on.

“We believe that the initial and principal use is for patients with tumors in parts of the body where surgery is difficult, such as blood vessels and the central nervous system, and in cases where preserving the organ containing the tumor is very important. Our treatment is local, and does not require radical surgery. The organ may recover afterwards, which is very important to the patient,” said Keisari

“That’s in general. Where specific types of cancer are concerned, melanoma is a likely area, as is carcinoma of the head and neck. The first patients to be treated will be in this category.”

The patent registered by the researchers was for the electric current’s ability to introduce molecules into cells. Developing an anti-cancer application required five years, preceded by five years of research into the biophysical phenomenon itself. That means that in addition to the anti-cancer application, this technology can be used as a platform for treating other diseases. Keisari says it could be used for delayed drug release into cells or specific tissue, and for genetic healing, the ability to insert genes into cells in the tissue.

What CellFeed Medical – the company’s temporary name – is doing now, however, is to look for new combinations with chemotherapy, in order to discover the most effective combination with electric treatment. Keisari explains that the researchers are extending the types of cancer they are treating, and are on the verge of a pre-clinical trial.

The start of this trial depends to a great extent on how much capital the company manages to raise. RAMOT University Authority for Applied Research & Industrial Development owns the development rights, and an agreement is in the works to enable the company to conduct a financing round.

David Furst, who formerly worked at Israel Phoenix subsidiary Atara Technology Ventures, is “initiating the entrepreneurs into the mysteries of the industry,” as Keisari puts it.

Furst says the company currently needs $1.5 million “which will be enough for the first stage, creating a prototype of perishable components for starting on phase II clinical trials, plus a little breathing room before the second financing round.”

The rate of human trials depends to a great extent on the US Food and Drug Administration’s attitude towards the technology. Furst says, “It’s a new procedure, and therefore must go through all the stages, including a control phase on patients. The right regulatory strategy must also be considered, however, in order to achieve the status of a life-saving procedure, which may enable us to get on the fast track. That’s one of our strategic goals.”

(Originally appeared in Globes)