FDA approves Penn’s ‘glowing tumor’ imaging drug to identify ovarian cancer cells

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) today approved an imaging drug known as Cytalux (pafolacianine), which is attracted to ovarian cancer tissue and illuminates it when exposed to fluorescent light, allowing surgeons to more easily find and more precisely remove the cancer. Physicians at the Center for Precision Surgery in the Abramson Cancer Center led one of the largest clinical trial sites in the country for the drug, in a partnership with the Indiana-based On Target Laboratories. The approach brings fresh hope to patients diagnosed with ovarian cancer, about half of whom experience a recurrence of their disease after initial treatment. Penn investigators and other industry partners have pioneered additional targeted technologies for lung, brain, breast, sarcoma, head and neck, and urinary tract cancers.

Highlighted internal view of the female reproductive system.

Only 20% of ovarian cancers are found early, as there are often no symptoms—or they may mimic other common bladder, bowel, or gastrointestinal issues—and there is no screening test like those for breast and cervical cancer. By the time most women receive their diagnosis, the disease has advanced, which can include spread to intraabdominal organs. Most patients then require surgery—also called cytoreduction, or debulking surgery—in an effort to remove tumors, as well as receiving chemotherapy.

“Lighting up cancer, which helps to identify lesions that may be difficult to find—especially in the presence of scar tissue or other organ damage—enables more complete identification and surgical removal of cancer that could have otherwise been missed,” says Janos L. Tanyi, an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology in the Perelman School of Medicine and principal investigator at Penn’s clinical trial site for Phase 2 and Phase 3 studies. “This FDA approval offers more precise surgical intervention for patients with ovarian cancer who face a high risk of recurrence after their initial treatment.”

This story is by Caren Begun. Read more at Penn Medicine News.