• Otávio Santiago

The challenges of developing radiopharmaceuticals for cancer

Radiopharmaceuticals have been a relatively niche area of cancer therapy for decades. Steffen Schuster, the CEO of Germany’s ITM Group, outlines how the space is heating up, and how much nuclear medicine centers still need to grow.

There are many areas in oncology research that are generating investor excitement, including immuno-oncology, DNA damage repair and protein degradation. Another emerging area with huge potential is the treatment of cancer using drugs that carry radioactive molecules, known as radiopharmaceuticals.

“This space is hot right now,” said Steffen Schuster, CEO of the German firm ITM Group. “​​You see acquisitions in the field and you see the money flowing in, in terms of venture capital, private equity and growth capital.” Some notable acquisitions in the last decade include Novartis’ takeover of Advanced Accelerator Applications and Endocyte, and Bayer’s purchase of Noria Therapeutics and its subsidiary PSMA Therapeutics.

Radiopharmaceuticals typically consist of a tumor-hunting drug that is chemically attached to a radioactive molecule called a radioisotope. If you attach one type of radioisotope to the drug, you can image where it binds to a tumor target in a diagnostics setting. By attaching a different radioisotope, you can zap the tumor cells with radiation at point-blank range. This strategy is also known as theranostics.

“When we give a drug to the patient, we know already that the receptors are being addressed with the diagnostic targeting molecule. That’s the beauty of the concept,” explained Schuster.

ITM has been in the radiopharmaceuticals business since 2004, and has positioned itself as a central supplier for many other companies in the same space. After he served as a general partner at TVM Capital, Schuster took the helm at ITM in 2011, and has driven the company to become a drug developer in its own right.

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