Researchers work to get novel cancer treatment of Washington County native into human clinical trials


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Before Washington County native John Kanzius died from leukemia in 2009, Steven Curley promised him that he’d get Mr. Kanzius’ radio-wave cancer treatment into human clinical trials.

Dr. Curley, professor of surgery and chief of surgical oncology at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, says he is on the verge of doing just that.

His research team of 21 will spend the summer testing the treatment on pigs with liver cancer with results expected by summer’s end. While the initial focus is on liver and pancreatic cancers, previous studies also show evidence it could work on breast, prostate, brain, colon and other cancers.

The method developed by Mr. Kanzius involves spiking cancer cells with gold or carbon nanotubes, which are attached to cancer-targeting agents that seek out protein receptors on cancer cells. Nanotubes attached to or penetrating the cancer cell turn it into a tiny radio receiver. Radio waves from Mr. Kanzius radio-frequency generator then are focused noninvasively on the body, causing only the cancer cells to heat up to deadly temperatures, with no effect on healthy cells and tissue.

Studies led by Dr. Curley on mice and smaller animals show no sign of cancer remaining in 70 percent of those treated, with 30 percent experiencing a return of the cancer. But in those cases, the animals could undergo further rounds of treatment to keep the cancer at bay, largely without side effects.

Success with larger animals now would open the door for Dr. Curley to seek U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval to test the procedure on humans. He said he’s hoping human trials can begin in 2015.

“We got very compelling data in our animal models, but animal models are exactly that,” he said. “Once we complete large animals by late summer, we hope to set up a meeting with the FDA and see what additional studies would be necessary to get this into human clinical trials.

“I promised John I’d get this into trials,” Dr. Curley said.

In January Mr. Kanzius’ company, Therm Med LLC, now led by his wife, MaryAnn, sold his patents to AkesoGenX Corp., a Westminster, Colo., company, for which Dr. Curley now is a director. The company has assumed responsibility to fund remaining research through completion of human clinical trials, which is expected to cost multiple millions. The initial phase is to show the treatment is safe, with further trials to test its effectiveness in treating cancer.

AkesoGenX’s CEO and director Robert Zavala did not respond to a request to comment on company plans. Mrs. Kanzius also was unavailable to discuss the transaction and advances in research.

But the company’s website says its primary goal is to move “treatment forward to treat patients with highly lethal and resistant forms of cancer” by using the Kanzius “noninvasive radiofrequency field thermal destruction of malignant tumors.”

AkesoGenX’s acquisition of Kanzius technology patents has prompted the Kanzius Cancer Research Foundation in Erie -- where the Kanziuses lived much of their adult lives -- to announce that it will end operations on June 30. The foundation, led by Mark A. Neidig Sr., says it raised more than $15 million in donations to fund the research. Dr. Curley said he and his team also have a National Institutes of Health grant extending through next year.

“The Kanzius Foundation has funded all of the research necessary for Dr. Curley and other investigation to prove that the technology works and to begin the first phase of trials,” a foundation news release stated last week. “We have successfully completed our mission.”

There have been no major setbacks in the research, Dr. Curley said, but there have been some modifications.

“John [Kanzius] saw this working in only one treatment. But we have had to treat mice three to four times a week for six to eight weeks,” he said, noting that massive destruction of cancer cells all at once can overload and damage the kidneys, which filter waste materials from the blood.  

Killing all cancer cells in one treatment would require generating such high temperatures inside the tumor cells that collateral burns and electrical injuries in healthy tissue could result. Finding the right dose of radio waves is one key goal in testing the procedure on pigs with the latest Kanzius technology that’s large enough to treat humans.

But, Dr. Curley said it’s clear: “The animals handle multiple radio-frequency treatments with no measurable toxicity.”

“I continue to be optimistic that we are making good progress with interesting findings,” Dr. Curley said. “I continue to be hopeful that John’s vision was correct -- that this could be a good treatment. John put out the ’cure’ word. But even if it is a treatment with fewer side effects [than chemotherapy and radiation], you can change the quality of someone’s life. That’s what John was interested in.”

Raised in the Washington, Pa., area and a Trinity High School graduate, Mr. Kanzius co-owned the Jet Broadcasting Co. in Erie., which owned and operated a string of radio stations, the last of which he sold after being diagnosed with b-cell leukemia in 2002.

His post high-school education was limited to technical training in radio technology. He developed his ideas about spiking cancer cells with metallic particles then killing them with radio waves when he could not sleep at night while undergoing chemotherapy. He was 64 when he died.

“John was a brilliant man and truly a visionary and innovator,” Dr. Curley said. “I miss him every day. We had geeky conversations about radio-frequency and energy fields, but he had no formal degrees. He was truly visionary but he also was a decent, regular guy.”


David Templeton: dtempleton@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1578.

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