Scientists have inched closer to a nanotechnology therapy that targets cancer with a “Stealth smart bomb” tuned to dodge the body’s immune system.

BIND 014, which targets tumour cells while evading the body’s immune system, promises to deliver larger and more effective doses of drugs to cancers, while simultaneously sparing patients many of the distressing side—effects of chemotherapy, The Times newspaper said today.

Measuring about 100 nanometres, or one ten-millionth of a metre, a thousand of these nanoparticles could hide behind a human hair.

The drug—filled “warhead” is covered with a “stealth coating” of polyethylene glycol, which helps the particle to hide so that it is not attacked by elements of the body’s immune system such as antibodies and macrophage cells.

“Regular nanoparticles struggle to get through to tumours,” said Professor Robert Langer, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who developed the “special delivery parcel” along with and Omid Farokhzad of Harvard University.

“We’ve created a nanoparticle decorated with two molecules, one of which helps it to dodge the immune system, while the other helps it to target cancer cells,” Professor Langer was quoted as saying by the British daily.

The therapy is to begin patient trials next year in the first clinical test of a pioneering approach to medicine, according to the report. BIND Biosciences, the Massachusetts—based company that developed the technology, said this should be the “first targeted nanoparticle delivering a chemotherapeutic to enter clinical trials“.

“We’re then looking to develop this as a broad platform that could also be used to treat cardiovascular disease, inflammation, even infectious disease,” said Jeff Hrkach, the company’s vice—president of pharmaceutical sciences.

A trial involving about 25 cancer patients is scheduled to start within a year. If successful, it could lead to a licensed drug within five years, said the report in the British daily.

Although the therapy was originally designed for prostate cancer, it is expected to be effective against other solid tumours, such as forms of breast, lung and brain cancer.

Patients with some of these cancers, as well as prostate cancer, may be included in the first trial, it said.

The landmark drug has been successfully tested against human prostate tumours grown under the skin of mice, in studies that have shown both that the drug accumulates around tumours and reduces them in size.

“It’s shrunk tumours in animals essentially to zero,” Professor Langer said.