Magnetically Guided Bacteria to Specifically Deliver Anti-Cancer Agents to Colorectal Cancer Sites

Challenge: Many cancers are treated with cocktails of chemotherapeutic drugs designed to prevent growth and spread of cancerous cells. Chemotherapy damages healthy cells, causing undesired side effects such as myelosuppression and cardiotoxicity. Localized drug therapy, if appropriately delivered could have a major impact on quality of life and treatment efficacy.

Solution: The lead investigator has pioneered a revolutionary drug delivery platform, based on magnetotactic bacteria that can be directed by a magnetic field, to deliver an anti-cancer payload to the tumor site. Non-pathogenic bacteria, with a diameter of approximately two micrometers acting as drug carriers, are able to navigate through the smallest blood vessels to reach tumor sites inaccessible to larger microcarriers. Loaded with liposome encapsulated cancer-fighting drugs, attached physically to their cellular envelop and guided by a computer-controlled external magnetic field, the bacteria use their flagella to propel themselves efficiently through small blood vessels to reach the tumor site and eradicate the cancer.

Achievements/Impact: The team has generated a solid proof-of-concept using xenotransplantation and treating human colorectal cancer cells in an animal model. The magnetotactic bacteria loaded with liposomes containing the SN-38 antineoplastic drug, were guided to the site of the tumor using magnetic guidance. Under these conditions, 55% of SN-38 dose could reach the tumor site resulting in 50X improved therapeutic efficacy and near complete tumor regression.A key strength of this disruptive approach is its adaptability for delivering multiple classes of anti-cancer drugs. This also emphasizes its versatility as a targeted delivery platform for treating patients. The team has secured substantial new investments to build a first in kind human-scale MRI-guided magnetotaxis platform. A new biotech company known as Medical Starpax has been created in Montreal to develop this drug delivery platform for clinical use.

Principal Investigator:

Sylvain Martel
Polytechnique Montréal


Gerald Batist, Nicole Beauchemin, Danuta Radzioch, Maryam Tabrizian et Te Vuong
McGill University

Louis Gaboury et Michel Lafleur
Université de Montréal

Michael Atkin
Syzent Partners

Completed Project
$1,890,000 / 3 years
Supported by CQDM through:
• AstraZeneca
• Merck
• Pfizer
And by co-funding partner:
• Mitacs