The drug, called Tookad Soluble, was approved by Mexico’s health authority earlier this year and now is undergoing advanced trials in Israel and Europe. A successful Phase III clinical trial involving 80 patients in Latin America confirmed the high rate of localized cures and minimal side effects seen in Phase II clinical trials. Steba Biotech, a privately owned company in Lubxembourg with facilities in Israel, collaborated in the development of the drug and recently applied for Tookad to receive market approval in Europe.

Tookad Soluble is delivered via injection and activated by near-infrared laser light through thin optic fibers inserted into the cancerous tissue, according to Israel21c. The illumination triggers the drug to circulate in the tissue and release short-lived toxic oxygen and nitric oxide that destroy the tumor’s blood vessels and kill the cancerous cells. The drug disappears from the system, with no toxic residue, three to four hours after the 90-minute procedure.

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Patients are released a few hours after being injected with the drug and can return to normal activities within a few days, without the side effects typically associated with radiotherapy or surgery to remove the prostate. The drug makes it possible for the first time to treat deeply affected cancerous tissue in a minimally invasive way.

Tookad Soluble was developed by Prof. Yoram Salomon of the biological regulation department, and Prof. Avigdor Scherz of the plant and environmental sciences department, at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot. They worked in collaboration with Steba Biotech, which received the license for Tookad from the Yeda Research and Development Company, the Weizmann Institute’s technology transfer arm.

“The new minimally invasive procedure using Tookad offers a good alternative to patients diagnosed with early-stage prostate cancer,” said Amir Naiberg, CEO of Yeda Research and Development Company. “The number of these patients has dramatically increased in the last two decades due to widespread screening relying on levels of prostate specific antigen (PSA). This population faces the dilemma of undergoing the radical treatment of prostate removal with the risk of high morbidity, or remaining under active surveillance with increased risk of further cancer progression.”

Four additional clinical studies are taking place in collaboration with Oxford University and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City to test Tookad’s effectiveness with more advanced prostate cancer and other cancers. A Tookad trial involving 50 prostate-cancer patients is also reportedly taking place at Assuta Hospital in Tel Aviv.