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Finnish Company Tenboron Develops Groundbreaking Cancer Treatment

Finland is a pioneer in the field of cancer treatment research and technology. However, as the population ages, the number of new cancer cases is on the rise, and the race to develop new treatment methods is accelerating. The most commonly used methods in cancer treatments currently include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and various hormonal and immunological treatments.

Radiation therapy based on radioactive radiation is an effective form of cancer treatment, but it can have significant side effects for the patient. For decades, more efficient technology that allows for more precise targeting of radiation solely to the cancerous tumor, thus sparing the surrounding healthy tissue, has been developed in countries like Finland and Japan. This so-called boron neutron capture therapy (BNCT) has proven to be a very promising option especially for difficult-to-treat tumors in the head and neck area, where surgical procedures or conventional radiation therapy are not possible.

Boron Bombardment with Neutrons

BNCT, or boron neutron capture therapy, utilizes the property of the boron-10 isotope to capture neutrons. In this method, boron-10 is introduced into cancer cells, which are then exposed to low-energy neutron radiation. This leads to fission, or a nuclear reaction, in boron-10. In other words, the boron atom captures a neutron and splits. The resulting alpha radiation can very precisely destroy cancer cells while avoiding damage to surrounding healthy cells. Thus, the treatment targets only the desired cells, making BNCT a very precise form of treatment.

Long History, New Innovation

The first BNCT treatment was carried out in the United States in the 1950s, but it did not yield the desired results at that time. Since then, BNCT treatment has been developed and applied in various countries, such as Finland, the United States and Japan. However, the central challenge from the beginning has been the efficient delivery of boron to cancer cells in sufficiently high concentrations. The boron must be concentrated specifically in the tumor, with minimal presence in the surrounding tissue or bloodstream. In 2010, a Finnish company, Tenboron, took on this challenge and began working on a better solution. As a result of the company's research and development, a patented boron carrier molecule was created, significantly increasing the boron concentration in cancer cells compared to previous methods. This innovation makes BNCT treatment more precise and effective, which is very promising for the development of cancer treatments.

Setbacks and Successes

Between 1999 and 2011, 249 patients were treated with BNCT in Finland. The treatments were successfully carried out at the University of Helsinki Central Hospital and in Otaniemi at VTT's research reactor FiR1. The results were very promising, and tumors completely disappeared in some patients. Inspired by these results Tenboron Ltd was founded. Unfortunately, less than two years later, VTT decided to close the reactor for research reasons, and Tenboron lost its only customer.

However, Tenboron's story continued. The current CEO, Juha Jouhki, initially joined the company as an investor based on a personal experience. The father of his friend had successfully received BNCT treatment in Otaniemi. Jouhki is also one of Tenboron's largest individual investors and knows that capital investments in the pharmaceutical industry require perseverance, with no quick profits available. There has to be a strong belief in the future.

Despite the setbacks, the company continued its development work until the highly developed carrier molecule was ready to be patented in 2016. Tenboron's boron carrier substance is significantly more efficient compared to the current molecules in use. While the current boron carrier contains only one boron atom, Tenboron has managed to develop a molecule containing up to 2000 boron atoms.

First Phase Underway

Tenboron is currently conducting its first clinical trial to investigate boron concentrations in tumors. In the study, Tenboron's carrier molecule is injected directly into the tumors, which are then surgically removed the following day. This allows for the verification of boron concentrations enabled by the method. In the next phase, BNCT treatment will be tested using Tenboron's developed carrier molecule. Although the treatment is primarily aimed at tumors in the head and neck area, it may also be applicable to other types of cancer.

Bright Future

For decades, one of the major limitations of boron neutron therapy has been the availability of neutron sources. Currently, Japan and China have the only neutron accelerators used for treatment.

Although a neutron accelerator is a significant million-dollar investment, the new treatment method is cost-competitive compared to other treatments in terms of overall patient costs. A significant advantage is also that the treatment is much easier for the patient compared to invasive surgery or long chemotherapy treatments with their side effects. The effectiveness of boron neutron therapy may also allow for a single treatment session to achieve the desired result, allowing the patient to return to work the same day.

Finland is at the forefront of the field's development. In 2023, a neutron accelerator from Neutron Therapeutics was installed at the Meilahti hospital campus. Clinical trials are set to begin during 2024. In 2025 Tenboron will have the opportunity to test its Finnish-developed and manufactured carrier molecule in BNCT.