Research Contracts & Innovation (RCI) is the department at the University of Cape Town (UCT) that’s responsible for signing research contracts and facilitating technology transfer. In 2017 the total value of 2363 signed contracts was R1.39 billion – over $100 million at the time – while there were 41 invention disclosures, 72 patent applications filed and 16 patents granted. RCI has just published its annual report, Innovation at UCT 2018 that has the theme, Cancer in the Crosshairs (click here to download the report), which profiles 12 innovations in the cancer detection and treatment arena.
A major challenge with anti-cancer drugs like cisplatin is toxicity and the brutal side-effects. Sharon Prince has identified the metal platinum as a potential root cause of the problem and has discovered a drug based on palladium that has shown great promise in animal trials. Kevin Naidoo, whose research we featured two years ago, has identified glycogene biomarkers that can be used to classify cancer types, thereby assisting oncologists to select the most approriate therapy for their patients. CapeRay’s contributions are featured under the heading, “Saving lives, time and money with dual-modality imaging,” and mention is made of our collaboration with Kamila Padia, head of radiology at Two Military Hospital in Cape Town (see our Aceso system below left).
Bill Horsnell has explored the use of surfactant proteins, normally associated with lung function, to fight infections such as the human papillomavirus (HPV) which can cause cervical cancer. Stefan Barth and his team have been interested in the possibility that antibodies can be harnessed for two purposes: to recognise diseased cancer cells and then to enable tailor-made treatment of the cells. Virna Leaner has tested the hypothesis that if you are able to block the function of a protein that is essential to a specific cancer, then the cancer cells should die, and she has identified a promising chemical compound.
George Vicatos has created implants to replace long bones and other bony structures that have been ravaged by osteosarcomas, while Anwar Jardine has explored the application of deep tissue bioluminescence imaging to monitor tumours non-invasively during treatment. Edward Rybicki has created HPV vaccines that are expressed in the tobacco plant with rapid turnaround, higher yield and can be produced less expensively than traditional methods.
A recent paper in The Lancet has suggested that South Africa could experience a 78% increase in cancer cases by the year 2030. The RCI report concludes, “Early diagnosis is key to successful cancer treatment and our innovators have pushed forward novel ideas.” Now that’s something worth celebrating!