Targeted radioactive drugs raise hopes for treating cancer

Radioconjugates hitch known radioactive isotopes to tumor-targeting tails. Scientists think they might change cancer care

by Leigh Krietsch Boerner
April 18, 2022 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 100, Issue 13


We may never have a cure for cancer, but a new type of drug, called radioconjugates, is grabbing the attention of oncologists. Like external radiation therapy, these drugs use radiation to kill tumors, but they do it internally with the help of cancer-seeking guides. Biotech firms are springing up to study and develop radioconjugates, joining big companies like AstraZeneca, Bayer, and Novartis. The US Food and Drug Administration has already approved two radioconjugate drugs: Lutathera and Pluvicto. Scientists have more work to do to design these drugs and make them targetable while finding and sourcing the right radioisotopes. Still, many see this new class of molecules as a promising part of future cancer treatments.