29th January 2024

Cytostatic drugs with remote ignition

Johannes Karges will be awarded the 2024 Paul Ehrlich and Ludwig Darmstaedter Early Career Award.

He has discovered how chemotherapeutic agents containing platinum only accumulate in tumor tissue and can only be activated there. Karges uses light or ultrasound as triggers for this. He has already provided preclinical proof of these methods. Transferring them into clinical practice could drastically reduce the serious side effects of these cancer drugs and significantly increase their effectiveness.
Around half of all chemotherapy treatments worldwide are carried out with cisplatin and two of its derivatives. These are cytostatic drugs that prevent cancer cells from dividing. For decades, they have shown impressive success against some types of cancer. However, they quickly lead to resistance. Because platinum preparations also inhibit the division of healthy body cells, they are also associated with serious side effects. For this reason, the search has long been on for a way to make these cytostatic drugs work only in the cancer cells.

Karges has developed platinum-containing chemotherapeutic agents in the form of tiny spheres (nanoparticles) that are too large to penetrate healthy tissue, but small enough to squeeze between cancer cells. In the next step, he not only succeeded in enriching them in cancer cells, but also changed their composition beforehand so that they remained ineffective without irradiation. They only became active after external irradiation with red light or ultrasound. In this way, Karges, supported by his Chinese research partner Prof. Haihua Xiao, was able to make existing tumors in mice disappear almost completely.

The prize will be awarded on March 14, 2024 by the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Paul Ehrlich Foundation in Frankfurt’s Paulskirche.

More about Johannes Karges