Genetronics Biomedical is using its electroporation therapy technology to deliver bleomycin to tumour cells for the treatment of cancer. Genetronics have developed the MedPulser Electroporation Therapy System, which consists of an electrical pulse generator and disposable electrode applicators. The MedPulser system enables the delivery of large molecules into cells by briefly applying an electric field to the cell. This causes a transient permeability in the cell's outer membrane characterised by the appearance of pores across the membrane. After the field is discontinued, the pores close, trapping the therapeutic molecules inside the target cells. Genetronics is using the MedPulser System in conjunction with bleomycin, an antineoplastic antibiotic that binds to DNA causing strand scissions. Genetronics is seeking a licensing partner for the use of electroporation for the delivery of drugs in chemotherapy. In 1998, Genetronics entered a licensing and development agreement with Ethicon for electroporation and electrofusion. Under the terms of this agreement, Ethicon was to develop and clinically test the Genetronics electroporation delivery system and conduct all regulatory activities throughout the world except Canada. Ethicon would also market the products once regulatory approval has been obtained and Genetronics was to receive a percentage of the net sales and as license fees. However, in July 2000, Ethicon exercised its rights to terminate the agreement without cause. All rights were returned to Genetronics in January 2001. In 1997, Genetronics entered an agreement with Abbott Laboratories for the manufacture of bleomycin for use in the US in its MedPulsar system after regulatory approval had been granted for its use in the treatment of solid tumours. In a separate supply agreement, Faulding Inc. has agreed to manufacture bleomycin for Genetronic for use in Canada after regulatory approval had been granted. The MedPulsar Electroporation Therapy System with bleomycin is currently in phase III pivotal studies in the US as a treatment for recurrent and second primary squamous cell carcinomas of the head and neck. Genetronics received approval for the Electroporation Therapy system as a device in March 1999 when it achieved CE Mark certification. In February 2004, Genetronics announced that it had completed a Special Protocol Assessment review process with the US FDA for two new trials that will compare bleomycin electroporation therapy to surgery. The primary endpoint will be tissue and function preservation rather than survival. One proposal is for recurrent head and neck cancer, and the other is for disfiguring cutaneous cancer. Three Institutional Review Boards in the US have approved the two protocols and Genetronics has initiated enrollment. In June 2004, Genetronics was granted fast-track status for its MedPulsar Electroporation Therapy System clinical development programme for patients with head and neck cancer. Shifting from a primary endpoint of survival to a quality-of-life outcome will enable those clinical trials to be carried out faster with less cost and with a higher likelihood of success. As a result, Genetronic's phase III trials focussing on survival as a primary endpoint have been discontinued. This includes a phase III trial for late-stage, recurrent head and neck cancer in combination with the normal standard of treatment compared with normal standard of treatment alone. Interim results from this trial had suggested bleomycin electroporation therapy demonstrated local tumour control and preservation of organ function, as well as non-inferiority when compared with surgery. This trial was initiated in May 2002. In March 2004, Genetronics initiated a post-European regulatory approval clinical study in patients with primary or recurrent squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck (SCCHN). This study aims to enroll approximately 100 patients at 12-15 hospitals located in the UK, Germany, Italy, France, Austria and other western European countries. The study is designed to support the commercialisation of the MedPulser Electroporation System in the EU. Prior clinical trials established the safety and performance of the MedPulser System for the treatment of SCCHN, leading to approval for sale in the EU based on achieving the CE Mark. This study will document the clinical and pharmacoeconomic benefit in support of reimbursement approval throughout Western Europe, establish centres of excellence to facilitate early sales, create a reference and customer base for a projected European commercial launch in 2005, and generate safety and efficacy data to support marketing applications in the US. The bleomycin delivery system has completed phase IIB trials in the US, Canada and Europe in patients with squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck who have failed conventional therapies. Phase II data were submitted to the FDA in the first quarter of 2002 and a phase III trial was launched in May 2002. The therapy is also being used in France in patients with cancers of the head and neck, liver (metastatic) and melanoma. A review of the data from these phase II trials was completed in April 2001. In June 2004, Genetronics was granted two US patents. US patent 6,748,265 covers its trans-surface drug and gene delivery technology and provides additional proprietary rights for an apparatus and method to deliver genes, drugs and other molecules through tissue surfaces. The second US patent, 6,746,441, pertains to the field of ex vivo therapies and covers the introduction of molecules into cells by electroporation, either in a continuous-flow or batch mode, with a variable electric field orientation. In July 2004, Genetronics received a US patent (no. 6,763,264) covering methods for the in vivo delivery of a recombinant expression vector (DNA) or a pharmaceutical agent into tissue cells, and a method for the therapeutic application of electroporation to a patient to introduce macromolecules.