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What can nuclear medicine do for cancer research? Quite a lot, says PRecirix CTO Dimitrios Mantzilas

Dimitrios was Matthew Palmer’s latest guest on the Venari Podcast’s Talking Radiopharma series

 

‘I’ve always been curious,’ Precirix Chief Technology Officer Dimitrios Mantzilas admits. It’s certainly served him well in his career in nuclear medicine. Matthew Palmer, Senior Oncology Consultant for our Life Sciences team, spoke to Dimitrios for this episode of the Venari Podcast’s Talking Radiopharma series. But what did we learn from their conversation?



 

Dimitrios’s academic background wasn’t initially in nuclear medicine

Instead, he studied biochemistry at the University of Oslo. ‘I always wanted that feeling of being a pioneer,’ Dimitrios notes. ‘I can relate to Star Trek – you know, to boldly go where no man has gone before.’  Studying about how antimicrobial peptides kill other peptides or entities in the same environment was difficult but triggered his curiosity, as this area had not been researched before. It led Dimitrios to continue his scientific journey, first at the university and then in the private sector, leading him towards the study of diagnostic agents.

 

GE Healthcare provided his first taste of radiopharma

At the company, he began working with radiopharmaceuticals focusing on PET imaging tracers. Dimitrios describes it as vibrant, innovative, and ‘very novel. We were trying to manufacture the radiopharmaceuticals [...] to make it so easy, like how we make coffee today with the machines and the capsules.’

 

Personal tragedy caused him to reflect

During this period, one of Dimitrios’s best friends died of cancer. ‘It was a very difficult process’ which caused Dimitrios to take stock and, eventually, consider looking into therapeutics. This led him to...

 

Further opportunities at Algeta 

At the Norwegian company, which was acquired by Bayer, Dimitrios had the chance to take part in global clinical trials. ‘It was very interesting to see something that started very small and became something very big.’

 

Becoming CTO of Precirix

Dimitrios was motivated to take this job not only for the interesting work, but also to be part of the C-suite: ‘to be able to work more on strategic concepts [...] while also moving our products through difficult clinical phases.’ He describes his job as being ‘to ensure that the company has the right technology, but also the right expertise to drive that technology, and align that to achieve the company’s business goals and strategy.’

 

What does Precirix do?

Precirix is a private, clinical-state biopharmaceutical company based in Belgium. ‘Our focus is to use innovative vectors that are called single-domain antibodies,’ which are protein fragments coupled to a range of radio isotopes or compounds. These are used, in turn, ‘in a theranostic concept to both visualise and select patients, but also cure patients that have canceer,’ Dmitrios explains.

 

Their research offers the best of both worlds

Fully monoclonal antibodies or peptides, along with small molecules, give Precirix’s research ‘the best of both worlds [...] They have a very efficient tumour penetration, high specificity, fast clearance, limited immunogenicity,’ Dimitrios says. ‘Our platform enables us, very rapidly, to develop compounds’ from lead to the clinic. Their current frontrunner is a CAMH-2 targeting metastatic HER2-positive cancer, which is under Phase One and Two trials at present. Dimitrios is glad that these efforts can contribute to the company’s mission: ‘to transform the treatment of cancer [...] by advancing the field of radiopharmaceuticals. And we believe as a company that in the future, every person living with cancer will receive radiopharmaceutical therapies to treat their disease.’

 

The ecosystem is all important

Dimitrios is fully engaged with the importance of technology and innovation, though his job and responsibilities encompass so much more. He’s accrued plenty of expertise across his career and knows the qualities needed to push CMC development: conducting experiments, achieving IND approval, interacting with agencies, and handling manufacturing and clinical supply queries. ‘To be able to do that, you need to be part of the ecosystem of the network,’ he says, acknowledging that a large part of his role is to interact with other companies and scout for new technology to streamline Criterix’ business as much as possible – which also entails team building and talent management, of course.

 

How to search for the right skillset

Bringing in the right expertise, and developing employees’ skills, are essential in any business – and all the more so in an area as competitive as biotech. Dimitrios acknowledges that it’s an ongoing process requiring dedication, effective leadership, and commitment to create an environment where staff are happy. He admits that while Precirix don’t have ‘the big pockets’ of Big Pharma companies, what they can offer is innovation, ‘and we use that, really, to attract talents to come to us.’

 

Dimitrios specifically looks for people with radioactive knowledge and experience, as ‘you can find a very good scientist, but to train people to manage radioactivity in the lab takes easily six months, potentially a year.’  Offering further training, such as in formulation development, can help to develop the talent Dimitrios needs to deliver and drive Precirix’ mission.

 

What else is going on in the world of radiopharmaceuticals?

In Dimitrios’s view, the full value of radiopharmaceuticals is still not totally appreciated I spite of recent product launches and M&A activity. ‘Big Pharma is still sitting on the fence, waiting’ he notes. ‘I believe there is huge potential within this space that is underutilised and not fully explored.’

 

The financial firepower of Big Pharma will be important for boosting the sector – ‘it cannot only be driven by small, innovative biotech companies,’ he notes. Dimitrios would love to see larger firms taking the risk on more cutting-edge approaches – ‘not only the old-school molecules that we already have enough of.’

 

If you’re struggling to find the right talent in the radiopharmaceutical field – or if you’re a nuclear medicine candidate considering your next steps – feel free to reach out to us for advice.

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