FDA Approves Imaging Drug for Detecting Ovarian Cancer Lesions

Nick Mulcahy

November 29, 2021

The US Food and Drug Administration has approved pafolacianine (Cytalux), an imaging drug indicated for use in adult patients with ovarian cancer undergoing surgery.

The new drug "is designed to improve the ability to locate additional ovarian cancerous tissue that is normally difficult to detect during surgery," according to the agency.

Pafolacianine, administered via intravenous injection prior to surgery, is the first FDA-approved tumor-targeted fluorescent agent for ovarian cancer.

In a press statement, drug inventor Philip Low, PhD, of Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, said the agent causes ovarian cancer lesions to "light up like stars against a night sky."

Improving detection of ovarian cancer lesions is critical given that ovarian cancer is one of the "deadliest of all female reproductive system cancers," according to the American Cancer Society. The organization estimates that there will be more than 21,000 new cases and more than 13,000 deaths in 2021.

Currently, surgeons use preoperative imaging as well as visual inspection of tumors under normal light and examination by touch to identify ovarian cancer lesions.

Pafolacianine offers a new tool to enhance surgeons' ability "to identify deadly ovarian tumors that may otherwise go undetected," Alex Gorovets, MD, deputy director of the Office of Specialty Medicine in the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, said in a press statement.

Ovarian cancer often causes the body to overproduce the folate receptor protein in cell membranes. Pafolacianine, employed with a near-infrared fluorescence imaging system cleared by the FDA for use alongside the drug, binds to and illuminates these proteins under fluorescent light, "boosting surgeons' ability to identify the cancerous tissue," the agency in a statement.

The safety and effectiveness of pafolacianine was evaluated in a randomized, multi-center, open-label study of women diagnosed with ovarian cancer or with high clinical suspicion of ovarian cancer. Of the 134 women undergoing surgery who received a dose of pafolacianine and were evaluated under both normal and fluorescent light, 26.9% had at least one cancerous lesion detected that was not observed by standard visual or tactile inspection.

The most common side effects of pafolacianine were infusion-related reactions, including nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, flushing, dyspepsia, chest discomfort, itching, and hypersensitivity.

Pafolacianine may cause fetal harm when administered to a pregnant woman. The use of folate, folic acid, or folate-containing supplements should be avoided within 48 hours before administration of pafolacianine. 

The FDA also cautioned about the possible risk of image interpretation errors, including false negatives and false positives, with the use of the new drug and near-infrared fluorescence imaging system.

The FDA previously granted pafolacianine orphan-drugpriority, and fast track designations.

For more from Medscape Oncology, join us on  Twitter  and  Facebook


Comments on Medscape are moderated and should be professional in tone and on topic. You must declare any conflicts of interest related to your comments and responses. Please see our Commenting Guide for further information. We reserve the right to remove posts at our sole discretion.