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Dr. James Kennedy & Dr. Roy Pottier

Location: Kingston, ON

Award: Principal Award

Category:

Year: 2007

Innovation:

Discovered that 5-aminolevulinic acid (ALA) could be used with light therapy to treat pre-cancerous and other skin conditions. Outcomes of their work include, Levulan® Photodynamic Therapy, used to successfully treat the pre-cancerous skin condition, actinic keratosis, acne, and is being investigated for the treatment of other skin conditions, cancers and infections. Read the News Release and Media Backgrounder for additional information.

News Release

Photodynamic Therapy a Bright Reality in Cancer Treatment

Physician-Researcher and Photochemist share $100,000 Encana Principal Award from Ernest C. Manning Awards Foundation

Calgary, AB (September 25th, 2007) — Drs. James Kennedy and Roy Pottier have won the $100,000 Encana Principal Award from the Ernest C. Manning Awards Foundation for their pioneering work on photodynamic therapy.

The innovators' discovery that 5-aminolevulinic acid (ALA) could be used in conjunction with light therapy to treat pre-cancerous and other skin conditions led to the development of Levulan® Photodynamic Therapy (PDT). Levulan® PDT has been used to successfully treat over 300,000 cases of the pre-cancerous skin condition, actinic keratosis. The therapy can also be used to treat acne, and is being investigated for use with various other skin conditions, cancers and infections.

ALA is a natural compound that the body uses in building blood. Cells can convert ALA into another compound that, upon light exposure, damages or kills the cells. The process is especially effective against cancer cells.

The researchers teamed up in 1979 in Kingston, Ontario, where Pottier was a professor with the Royal Military College of Canada and Kennedy was a practising physician and professor with Queen's University. Though recently retired, both are excited about the therapy's potential applications.

Receiving the Manning Principal Award is a fulfilling way to finish a career, noted Dr. Pottier. "(We're) in good company now," he said.

The Ernest C. Manning Awards Foundation

This year the Foundation will award $165,000 in prize money. Four awards totalling $145,000 will go to leading Canadian innovators. Another $20,000 will go to Young Canadians chosen at the 2007 Canada-Wide Science Fair.

The Foundation was established in 1980 in the name of Alberta statesman, Ernest C. Manning, to promote and support Canadian innovation. Since 1982, the Foundation has presented $3.76 million in prize money through its annual awards program.

The 2007 awards will be presented at an awards gala on September 28th in Toronto, Ontario.

A Media Backgrounder about the innovator and his work is available on the Foundation's website: www.manningawards.ca

For more information on the Foundation, contact Bruce Fenwick, Executive Director, 403-645-8288 or Nina C. Pudwell, Communications Coordinator, at 403-645-3006 or Nina.Pudwell@encana.com

For more information about Levulan® PDT, visit www.dusapharma.com, or contact the award winners: Dr. James Kennedy can be reached at 613-389-3000 or kennedyj@queensu.ca Dr. Roy Pottier can be reached at 506-488-3201 or pottier-r@rmc.ca
 

 

 

Media Backgrounder

$100,000 Encana Principal Award

Sponsored by Encana Corporation

Drs. James Kennedy and Roy Pottier Levulan®-Topical Photodynamic Therapy for Various Skin Conditions

Who?

The pioneers of ALA-photodynamic therapy:

  • Physician-Scientist James Kennedy, MD, PhD, Professor Emeritus, Department of Oncology, Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario
  • Photochemist Roy Pottier, PhD, Professor Emeritus, Department of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, The Royal Military College of Canada, Kingston, Ontario

What?

  • Drs. James Kennedy and Roy Pottier have won the $100,000 Encana Principal Award from the Ernest C. Manning Awards Foundation for their pioneering work on photodynamic therapy
  • The innovators' discovery that 5-aminolevulinic acid (ALA) could be used in conjunction with light to treat pre-cancers, cancers, and other abnormalities of the skin led to the development of Levulan® Photodynamic Therapy (PDT)
  • Levulan® PDT has been used to successfully treat over 300,000 cases of the pre-cancerous skin condition, actinic keratosis; the therapy can also be used to treat acne, and is being investigated for use with various other skin conditions, cancers and infections

Where?

  • Drs. Pottier and Kennedy carried out their research on ALA-based photodynamic therapy at the Royal Military College of Canada, Queen's University and the Kingston General Hospita
  • DUSA® Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (DUSA®), the maker of Levulan®, is based in Wilmington, Massachusetts, United States, and has one of two satellite offices in Toronto, Ontario, Canada

When?

  • The researchers team up in 1979 in order to pursue basic and clinical research in photodynamic therapy
  • PARTEQ Innovations, the technology transfer office of Queen's University, files the first patent application for ALA in 1989
  • In 1991, ALA technology is licensed to Deprenyl USA Inc. (now DUSA® Pharmaceuticals, Inc.)
  • Clinical trials of Levulan® Photodynamic Therapy for actinic keratosis begin in 1993; the US Federal Drug Administration approves the treatment in 1999
     

Why?

Killing cancer cells without damaging healthy cells isn't easy, which is why radiation and chemotherapy can be very tough on the body. ALA-photodynamic therapy, however, offers a magic bullet for targeted treatment of cancer and other conditions.

A respected cancer-immunologist, James Kennedy switched his entire research focus to photodynamic therapy at a time when, in Canada, "no one had ever heard of it before." In the mid-1970s he began using a hematoporphryin derivative-a complex mixture that includes protoporphyrin-to treat cancer patients. Although this material was useful, it had important drawbacks. After repeated treatments, the build-up of hematoporphyrin derivative in normal tissues would make them just as photosensitive as cancer cells. In addition, when treating complex curved surfaces such as the face or the foot, it was difficult to treat the cancer with a lethal dose of light without giving an overdose to adjacent healthy skin.

ALA, a natural precursor to protoporphyrin, turned out to be the weapon that Dr. Kennedy and his colleague Dr. Ray Pottier sought.

Dr. Kennedy initially provided ALA-photodynamic therapy to a cancer-patient who was too weak for surgery, as well as others for whom conventional treatments had failed. Not only did the therapy work, compared to other treatments, patients found it easier to take.

With other drugs, explained Dr. Pottier, "it's a huge problem getting the drug to the site where you want it to work." When Levulan®, the commercial formulation of ALA, is applied topically, it passes readily into the deeper layers of the skin where cancer cells originate.

Drs. Pottier and Kennedy also noted that ALA formulations can also be effective against deeper cancers if taken orally or injected intravenously, provided that light can reach the cancer via a light guide such as a fibre-optic bundle.

Levulan® PDT has been used with great success world wide to treat pre-cancerous skin lesions. DUSA® also markets a related product for persistent acne. Though recently retired, both Drs. Pottier and Kennedy are excited about the therapy's potential applications. Researchers are currently investigating the use of ALA-photodynamic therapy for photo-damaged skin; Barrett's esophagus, a pre-cancerous condition of the digestive tract; and cancers of the colon, bladder, brain and lung.

The therapy also holds promise for treating antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections, certain fungal infections and tropical parasitic diseases, such as leishmaniasis, filariasis, and malaria.

How?

When Dr. Ray Pottier first heard his colleague's "bright" idea to use the body's own chemistry to kill unhealthy cells, he was, admittedly, "a bit skeptical."

The compound 5-aminolevulinic acid (ALA) is a precursor of heme, which forms part of hemoglobin and other important proteins. Within the cells of the body, ALA converts to a more complicated building block called protoporphyrin. Protoporphyrin is a photosensitizer, which, upon light-activation, creates damaging, reactive forms of oxygen. Dr. James Kennedy reasoned that applying ALA to the skin followed by treatment with the right wavelength of light would kill cells in the treated area.

"I started believing in it," said Dr. Pottier, "when we were in my lab and spent the entire night…following the process in mice." As predicted, periodic exposure to ultra-violet light revealed a progressive build-up of protoporphyrin in the animals' skin.

Initial tests included some self-experimentation on the part of Dr. Kennedy, who tried the procedure on selected areas of his own skin. Auspiciously, he experienced no hair loss or scarring, common side effects of ionizing radiation treatment. By 1987, sure of the ALA treatment's safety and efficacy, he began to treat patients using ALA in a cold cream and a 500-Watt slide projector as a light source.

The novel approach succeeded, explained Dr. Pottier, because the body recognizes ALA as natural. In contrast, the body tries to rid itself of artificial drugs. Furthermore, malignant and pre-malignant cells preferentially accumulate protoporphyrin, and thus become prime targets for ALA-photodynamic therapy.

As Dr. Kennedy noted, it was the researchers' close collaboration that moved their discovery forward.

"We disagree on almost everything…except mutual respect," commented Dr. Pottier. "We made a good team."

The Ernest C. Manning Awards Foundation

This year the Foundation will award $165,000 in prize money. Four awards, totalling $145,000, will go to leading Canadian innovators. Another $20,000 will go to Young Canadians chosen at the 2007 Canada-Wide Science Fair.

The Foundation was established in 1980 in the name of prominent Alberta statesman, Ernest C. Manning, to promote and support Canadian innovators. Since 1982, the Foundation has presented $3.76 million in prize money through its annual awards program (www.manningawards.ca).