GLENS FALLS — A device that could double the life expectancy of people with stage 3 pancreatic cancer is being built by just two employees at AngioDynamics.
They’re working in a corner of a large manufacturing clean room where other oncology devices are also built. Everyone must suit up in a jacket, shoe covers, hairnets and gloves to work there. In the NanoKnife corner, there’s plenty of empty counter space for more technicians.
All they need is more demand, and AngioDynamics is ready to expand.
“We look at our forecast and we’re sure we can always produce 20 percent above that,” said a company team leader, Lucas Sauer-Jones. “If our forecast increases, we look at hiring more people.”
One operator can build about 260 NanoKnives each week.
Now that the device is in an FDA-approved clinical trial to see if it can be used effectively against pancreatic cancer, everyone is talking about expansion.
“The excitement was through the roof that day,” Sauer-Jones said of the day earlier this month when the clinical trial was announced.
“We are agile. A lot of people in this room can build processes on this line,” he added. “We are always preparing to increase our capacity. We are always cross-training.”
For now, with the trials just getting started, it’s not clear how many more NanoKnives will be requested by doctors throughout the world.
“We don’t know how this will impact us,” Sauer-Jones said.
But the workers on the line are hoping it’s big.
“To me, this is very important so I take a lot of pride in doing this. You’re excited because you can help more people,” said worker Chris Rock of Hudson Falls. “We’re building products to help people.”
Rock has worked for AngioDynamics for 15 years, building various devices. When the company shut down manufacturing in Manchester, Georgia and the U.K. and moved the jobs to Glens Falls last April, he was trained on the NanoKnife.
The clinical trials are part of the Food and Drug Administration’s expedited approval of the NanoKnife as a “breakthrough device” for life-threatening diseases. The company started marketing the device in 2008, and after some troubles with manufacturing early on, individual physicians have reported success. Now the company may be able to prove that success, which could make the NanoKnife a common treatment for stage 3 pancreatic cancer.
For now, those who wish to sign up for the clinical trial must travel to a site in New York City or Boston.
Pancreatic cancer is usually fatal, and survival rates have not improved in more than 40 years. Most patients have a tumor that can’t be surgically removed without destroying the pancreas. For those, life expectancy is 10 to 12 months with chemotherapy, according to Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center. Patients who had the NanoKnife treatment at Roswell Park instead lived an average of 20 months, according to the center. The center also found that in eight cases, the cancer was completely eliminated by the NanoKnife, although that does not normally happen.
The NanoKnife is used on a patient who is under anesthesia. The tool consists of three or four long needle-like devices that deliver electricity.
A surgeon brackets a pancreatic tumor with the needles, which release electricity that pulses from one needle to another. Those pulses open pores in the tumor, which causes it to die.
The idea is that electricity could be safer for the patient than other methods, Sauer-Jones said.
“It has less of a chance of damaging vital organs,” he said.
AngioDynamics also makes heat-based “ablation” tools, which remove soft tissue in a different way.
The heat isn’t as safe in vital organs, Sauer-Jones said.
The tissue that is removed with those devices could include cancer, and some doctors are using the tools in that way, but the FDA has not approved those uses yet.