New technology could 'light up' cancer cells during surgery and improve cancer surgery outcomes: First human clinical trials underway

November 19, 2014  

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - On Target Laboratories LLC and Purdue University are clinically investigating optical imaging technology that could "light up" cancer cells and help surgeons remove more cancerous tissue than previously possible during surgical procedures.

The technology was developed by Philip Low, the Ralph C. Corley Distinguished Professor of Chemistry at Purdue University, director of the Purdue University Center for Drug Discovery and co-founder of On Target Laboratories.  

"The optical imaging technology is another important milestone in cancer treatment advancements being piloted by Phil Low and other promising researchers at Purdue," said Mitch Daniels, Purdue University president. "It also is a prime example of how innovations being developed in Indiana can be advanced through partnerships with other world-class institutions like the Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands."

On Target Laboratories' lead molecule OTL38 achieved first-in-humans status at the Center for Human Drug Research, affiliated with Leiden University. It was the first time the compound was given to humans as part of testing. This clinical trial in healthy volunteers is complete and it demonstrated the safety of the molecule at various doses. The next step in development of this molecule will be the evaluation of efficacy and safety in patients with cancer.

"On Target Laboratories has developed small-molecule ligands, such as OTL38, that specifically target receptors over-expressed on solid tumors. We have attached them to proprietary fluorescent imaging agents that allow the cancers to light up during surgery," Low said. "We anticipate these tumor-targeted probes could help surgeons remove more of the tumor than would have been otherwise possible."

Data from the initial use of this technology in humans was published in Nature Medicine in October 2011. Low said the collaboration with Leiden University Medical Center will enable oncology surgeons to test the probes in surgeries for different cancers including breast cancer, lung cancer and ovarian cancer.

"These initial studies, if successful, could pave the way for further clinical development, and thereby eventually benefit many patients with cancer," he said.

"My colleagues and I are very excited about this collaboration because it will help real world translation of our technology for the management of this devastating disease. Surgery is pivotal for the treatment of most solid tumors, and our developing technology could, in the future, be the guiding light for surgeons by enabling intra-operative visualization of most such tumors."

"The image guided surgery program is a prime example of how novel molecules like OTL38 ideally should be developed. The seamless integration of industry, clinical pharmacologists and clinicians is exemplary," said professor Adam Cohen, the chief executive officer of the Center for Human Drug Research.

On Target Laboratories received $15 million in March from the Pension Fund of the Christian Church and Tom Hurvis, founder of Old World Industries, to enable further development of its optical imaging technology, including expanded clinical trials.

About On Target Laboratories LLC

On Target Laboratories is in the business of discovering, developing and commercializing small molecules that, when conjugated with fluorescent dyes, target and illuminate specific cancerous cells and other diseased tissue. These conjugates can be used by doctors, including surgeons, worldwide to better diagnose and treat a wide range of diseases from cancer to inflammation-related disorders.

About the Leiden University Medical Center

The LUMC is a modern knowledge center. The more than 7,000 staff members of LUMC are passionate about improving patient care through scientific research. We offer courses of instruction and continuing education to train doctors for this purpose. The LUMC focuses on top clinical and highly specialized care: the complex medical issues for which there are often not yet any answers. With patient care and research labs under one roof, patients, doctors and researchers collaborate to develop new treatment methods.

About the Center for Human Drug Research

CHDR is an innovative clinical research facility in Leiden closely situated near Leiden University Medical Centre. Due to a combination of clinical pharmacological science, a proprietary method and biomarker development program CHDR has established itself as a unique location for introducing new prototypical substances into man, both in patients and healthy subjects. CHDR provides services to large and small innovative pharmaceutical firms all over the world but has maintained a respected scientific output and very intense relationships to the dense concentration of academic medical centers in the West of the Netherlands with a strong focus on Leiden. CHDR occupied a new custom built clinical research facility in 2013.

 About Purdue Research Park

The Purdue Research Park is the largest university-affiliated business incubation complex in the country. The Purdue Research Park manages the Purdue Technology Centers in four sites in the State of Indiana located in West Lafayette, Indianapolis, Merrillville and New Albany. The more than 260 companies located in the park network employ about 4,500 people who earn an average annual wage of $63,000. The park is managed by the Purdue Research Foundation, which received the 2014 Incubator Network of the Year from the National Business Incubator Association for its work in entrepreneurship. For more information about funding and investment opportunities in startups based on a Purdue innovation, contact the Purdue Foundry at 

Purdue Research Park contact: Steve Martin, 765-588-3342, 

Sources: Philip Low, Purdue University,

Koos Burggraaf, Center for Human Drug Research, 

Purdue University, 610 Purdue Mall, West Lafayette, IN 47907, (765) 494-4600

© 2014-18 Purdue University | An equal access/equal opportunity university | Integrity Statement | Copyright Complaints | Brand Toolkit | Maintained by Marketing and Media

Trouble with this page? Disability-related accessibility issue? Please contact us at so we can help.