Countering CANCER Big Potential from Tiny Particles

The German biotech firm MagForce is hoping to profit from a new therapy using nanoparticles to destroy brain tumors.
Nanotherm therapy has already been used on patients.

Ben Lipps is jetting from one investor conference to another, flying from New York and to Vienna to promote a potentially groundbreaking new cancer treatment.

The former longtime CEO of Fresenius Medical Care is on the road to promote MagForce, a German biotech company that specializes in nanoparticle therapy to fight cancerous tumors.

Mr. Lipps took over at MagForce in September 2013. Since then he has gathered investors, increased capital and built up medical equipment for use in hospitals.

In a new clinical study, the firm’s nanoparticle therapy is being used at five university hospitals in Germany to treat patients with brain tumors. A sixth hospital, the university hospital of Göttingen, will soon be added.

“We are on the way to commercializing our therapy,” said Mr. Lipps.

MagForce's technology has been approved to treat brain tumors since 2010. But it has not been a commercial success because an earlier study did not get medical opinion leaders on board, according to analysts at GBC research. The new study in German hospitals is aimed at changing that.

Glioblastoma is an insidious and very aggressive brain cancer. Less than 10 percent of patients survive five years after it develops. The “nanotherm” therapy developed by MagForce demonstrated promising results in a study of 59 participants six years ago. As part of the treatment, superparamagnetic nanoparticles with an ferric oxide core are injected into the tumor.

A magnetic field is then created to activate the particles, which can reach temperatures exceeding 50 degrees Celsius, or about 120 degrees Fahrenheit. The tumor is either destroyed or sensitized for follow-up radiation or chemotherapy.

By 2019, MagForce is hoping for annual sales of €100 million to €150 million.

Professor Roland Goldbrunner, managing director at the Center for Neurosurgery at the University of Cologne, last month treated the first female patient with a brain tumor using MagForce’s nanotherm therapy. The patient in her mid-60s underwent six one-hour sessions, and the tumor disappeared.

“That does not mean, however, that the patient has been healed,” cautioned Mr. Goldbrunner.

Now the patient should get further radiation, he said, so the tumor does not come back.

Patients with recurring brain tumors often run out of established therapy alternatives, said Mr. Goldbrunner. As a rule, they already would have gone through one or two operations, as well as radiation and chemotherapy. For them, nanotherm therapy could be an option because it has fewer side effects.

Nanotherm treatment costs about €40,000, or $44,000, said Mr. Goldbrunner. He said that’s favorable relative to other treatment possibilities. A brain tumor operation for example, costs between €10,000 to €15,000. Additionally, chemotherapy can cost up to €10,000 per month. For other therapies, up to €20,000 per month can be expected, he said.

Up to now, nanotherm treatment is not listed in the service catalog of procedures covered by health insurance. It’s possible, though, that health insurance companies will reimburse the therapy in individual cases.

“We will reach the break-even in Europe if we realize 200 to 250 therapies over the year,” said Mr. Lipps.

He hopes the company will come close to being in the black in Europe in the coming year. By 2019, MagForce is hoping for annual sales of €100 million to €150 million.

The 75-year-old Mr. Lipps has another big project underway in the United States – treating prostate cancer with nanotherm therapy. In May, MagForce applied for approval of a clinical study with the Food and Drug Administration, the U.S. regulatory authority.

Video: Looking closer at nanotechnology to treat cancer.Maike Telgheder covers the health care industry. To contact her: [email protected]