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Project CytoSwitch

CytoSwitch is a translational research project developing our photoswitchable cytostatics from basic research towards clinical application as tumour-localised cancer therapeutics. The CytoSwitch project has been funded since March 2017 by the translational EXIST-Forschungstransfer Grant of the BMWi (German Ministry of Economics Affairs and Energy), after previous support by the Bavarian FLÜGGE program. The CytoSwitch project is now co-led by Tilmann Petersen.

Basis of the CytoSwitch project: Treatment with cytotoxic/cytostatic drugs like paclitaxel, doxorubicin or cisplatin is still the major cancer chemotherapy method. Despite its success in treating some cancer types (pre- and post-surgery), it causes strong systemic side-effects, including cardiotoxicity, immunosuppression, and irreversible neuropathy. Weaker patient populations (children, the elderly, those with pre-existing medical conditions) are often unable to tolerate such side-effects and may not be able to receive treatment; and even stronger patients may only be able to tolerate drug dosages that are insufficient to ensure cancer eradication.

The CytoSwitch project is testing the feasibility, safety and efficacy of using photoswitchable cytotoxins as chemotherapeutics that can be targeted exclusively to tumours by local activation with light, thereby sparing healthy tissues from side-effects. The project spans work in the fields of electronics, light delivery optics, and medicinal chemistry as well as biology; our major focus however is on experimentally assessing the requirements for successful photopharmaceutical drugs directly in murine cancer models. This involves balancing novel parameters such as wavelength response, quantum yield, and activated-state halflife, alongside the traditional parameters affecting drug ADME-PK/PD, to develop this entirely novel class of cancer chemotherapy candidates.

The goal within the framework of the EXIST project is to explore the general therapeutic feasibility of photoswitchable compounds in vivo, and to explore the therapeutic applications of our photoswitchable compounds to primary tumour therapy in mouse models.