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Pioneering a new-generation radiation therapy for cancer

Boneca Corporation
Boneca is the world’s only private health care company administering advanced Boron Neutron Capture Therapy (BNCT). Biologically targeted BNCT treatment already offers clear benefits in treating recurrent head and neck cancer and has the potential to enhance radiation therapy more generally by treating severe tumours while saving healthy tissue from harmful radiation.

BNCT differs significantly from conventional radiation therapy and other types of external radiation therapy by producing radiation inside a tumour. The fact that treatment uses a single BNCT session to administer a radiation dose that would otherwise take six weeks and require a patient to be irradiated up to 30 times highlights this very clearly.

As BNCT is biologically targeted on tumours, the dose given to healthy tissue is very low. Treatment can also be given after a full dose of conventional radiation therapy in cases where tumours recur or conventional therapy can no longer be given.

It works like this

Boneca is looking for hospitals outside Finland interested in BNCT-related collaboration and sending patients to Helsinki for treatment. Photo © Mikko Hinkkanen.
BNCT makes use of a special carrier substance – boron phenylalanine (BPA) – to carry boron into the cancer cells. BPA is infused into a peripheral vein, allowing the boron to accumulate in the cancer tissue. This tissue is then irradiated with low-energy neutrons obtained from a research nuclear reactor at the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland fitted with a specially designed epithermal neutron beam.

The boron nuclei react with the neutrons from the reactor and split into lithium nuclei and alpha particles, known as High-LET radiation, that destroys cancer cells and causes an extensive local radiation effect within the tumour. Advanced methods developed by Boneca maximise the radiation dose given to the tumour and minimise the impact on healthy tissue.

Aiming for first-line therapy status

Boneca’s treatment protocol is based on academic research carried out in Finland and clinical services that have been developed in collaboration with the company’s partners at Helsinki University Central Hospital and VTT.

Clinical trials in Finland have demonstrated that BNCT is safe and effective for patients diagnosed with locally recurring head and neck cancer, and that it is also safe and well-tolerated in the treatment of malignant gliomas.

Boneca is currently working on new ways of treating head and neck cancers by combining BNCT with chemotherapy, and a trial involving patients diagnosed with these types of tumours started in 2009. As part of this, BNCT is administered with cetuximab, an antibody that targets the epidermal growth factor receptor expressed in carcinoma cells.

Looking ahead, Boneca is aiming to develop BNCT into a first-line therapy for head and neck cancer with Helsinki University Central Hospital and extend its research to tumours in other anatomical regions.

> Markku Pohjola
(Published in HighTech Finland 2011)