New Low-cost Prostate Cancer Tracer Shows Promise for Early Diagnosis in More Patients

New Low-cost Prostate Cancer Tracer Shows Promise for Early Diagnosis in More Patients

A PhD student at King’s College London in England developed a new prostate cancer tracer — called 68Ga-THP-PSMA — that is low-cost, quick, and easy to produce.

The tracer, which targets the PSMA protein, can be easily produced in smaller clinics and hospitals and is expected to extend diagnostic scans to more patients.

The radioactive compound was developed by Jennifer Young with support from King’s College London and the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Biomedical Research Centre at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust. It is designed for use in positron emission emission tomography (PET) scans.

The study describing the manufacturing process and preclinical testing is titled, “68Ga-THP-PSMA: A PET Imaging Agent for Prostate Cancer Offering Rapid, Room-Temperature, 1-Step Kit-Based Radiolabeling,” and appeared in The Journal of Nuclear Medicine.

PET scans are a specialized radiology procedure that uses small amounts of a radiotracer to examine various body tissues. Specifically, PET studies evaluate the metabolism of a particular organ or tissue, helping doctors evaluate the organ’s function (physiology), structure (anatomy), and its biochemical properties.

In cancer, PET tracers are usually designed to target a molecule that is highly produced by the cancer cells. This means that the radioactive tracer will accumulate in the areas where the cancer cells are located, allowing physicians to visualize the tumor, sometimes before other symptoms appear.

There are abnormal amounts of PSMA protein in prostate cancer cells, and tracers targeting this molecule have already shown their utility in staging newly diagnosed prostate cancer patients and detecting early prostate cancer recurrence with higher sensitivity than conventional imaging agents.

However, the production of these agents is time-consuming and needs expensive equipment and radiochemistry expertise.

Now, Young has developed a new PSMA tracer that can be quickly and easily produced in a radio-pharmacy using a simplified, one-step kit. The tracer was safe in prostate cancer patients, and was specific to PSMA-positive prostate cancer lesions.

“The tracer Jennifer has developed will give more patients access to potentially lifesaving scans,” Prof. Philip Blower, of King’s College School of Biomedical Engineering and Imaging Sciences, said in a press release. “The low-cost and relatively straightforward production process means that smaller hospitals and not just the biggest specialist hospitals can produce it for their patients.”

“We hope this will be the first of several tracers based on this technology for application to other cancers, not just prostate,” added Blower, who supervised Young’s work with Dr. Greg Mullen at Theragnostics.

Theragnostics is a clinical stage radiopharmaceutical company developing a series of agents to improve cancer detection and management.

“We are proud to present the results of this Phase I study alongside our colleagues at the trial’s sponsor, the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, and King’s College London,” said Mullen, chief executive officer of Theragnostics.

“These data demonstrate the disruptive technology of 68Ga-THP-PSMA, by simplifying and speeding up current production, while providing increased imaging sensitivity to support the discovery of prostate cancer.

“We are rapidly moving forward with the clinical development of 68Ga-THP-PSMA, and working with regulatory bodies to address an unmet clinical need by bringing this technology to prostate cancer patients,” Mullen added.


  1. Stephen B. Strum, MD, FACP says:

    The term is “theranostics” and there is no “g” in this relatively new term. This is an advance but what I see is 99% of oncologists still use Tc99 bone scanning and CT scans of the abdomen and pelvis & uncommonly use any form of PET/CT or PET/MRI imaging. Moreover, there are little head-to-head studies comparing one imaging modality with another in the context of site specific disease (e.g., bone, lymph node). This makes advances very slow in the translation to patient care. So we do not have patients with prostate cancer currently being scanned with 68Ga-PSMA-11 PET/CT unless they are in a clinical trial and there are very few of those. The use of THP-PSMA PET/CT should be contrasted with the efficacy of 68Ga-PSMA-11 PET/CT unless that was reported in the referenced paper with senior author Hofman: Cold Kit PSMA PET Imaging: Phase I study of 68 Ga-THP-PSMA PET/CT in patients with prostate cancer.

    • Grace Frank says:

      Hello Dr. Strum, and thank you for your many comments and observations on our pages. We, too, think they are most appreciated by our readers. Just one comment on a minor point you address here: while the term theranostics is indeed spelled without a “g,” our reference to it in this article is to a radiopharmaceutical company, which does spell its name as Theragnostics —

      Again, thank you for interacting with our readers as you do.

      • Stephen B. Strum, MD, FACP says:

        I stand corrected. I visited the website above. Not much on it so far but apparently it is new. Strange that they would choose that spelling given that the term “theranostics” is used heavily in the PET literature. Also of interest is that Theragnostics has offices in both the UK and in the USA in Boston. The major work involving theranostics as it relates to prostate cancer stems out of Germany. Here in the USA we are just starting to use this approach in clinical trials (e.g., Cornell with Scott Tagawa). Even the ability to have men with PC evaluated with the imaging arm of theranostics using 68Ga-PSMA PET/CT is quite limited in the USA; we lag significantly behind the German investigators and clinicians.

  2. Major Seales says:

    Thank you so much for sharing such a useful and informative article. It is very important for everybody to support the people suffering from prostate cancer. It is necessary for them to get proper treatment along with the emotional and personal support. I read an article recently giving common Prostate cancer treatment options Long Island according to the stage diagnosed at

    1. Stage I Watchful waiting
    Radiation therapy or radical prostatectomy

    2. Stage II Radical prostatectomy
    External beam radiation and brachytherapy, alone or combined

    3. Stage III Combinations of external beam radiation, hormone therapy, brachytherapy, and radical prostatectomy
    Watchful waiting
    Hormone therapy, sometimes with chemotherapy

    4. Stage IV Combinations of external beam radiation, brachytherapy, and hormone therapy
    Radical prostatectomy
    TURP surgery
    Bone metastases treatments

    • Stephen B. Strum, MD, FACP says:

      Major, the above is really a terrible oversimplification of what each man with PC (prostate cancer) faces insofar as treatment options. First, the staging of this disease & most other cancers is SORELY inaccurate. In PC, for example, the assessment of spread to the lymph nodes is still being done with outdated imaging technology. We have advanced imaging but it is rarely used (< 5% of the time) i.e. "Optimized imaging in prostate cancer (PC) is absent 95% of the time at
      diagnosis or PSA recurrence." presented at ASCO (American Society of Clinical Oncology) in San Francisco in 2006 — 11 years ago, and things have barely changed. And what is listed above for "stage IV" is pretty much off the mark. Who would be advocating TURP (transurethral resection of the prostate) in this context. All the other treatment options have major flaws in them as well. What is lacking so badly is the emphasis on accuracy of the patient's status (extent or stage of disease) + the patient context + the cancer kinetics as determined by PSAV (PSA velocity) and PSA doubling time (PSADT). It's just a very flawed set of recommendations in its superficiality.

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