Drug that re-programmes cells to fight cancer developed in Australia

By: | Published: July 20, 2017 3:34 PM

Australian researchers have developed a drug which they say is capable of boosting the power of a promising new class of treatment that reprogrammes the body's own immune cells to fight cancer.

cancer, cancer treatment, fight cancer, cancer drugs, cancer cases, health, health India, Australia, cancer research, tumors, cancer symptoms, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, Professor Phillip Darcy and Dr Paul Beavis Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, immunotherapyThe therapy involves removing a patient’s own immune cells, genetically engineering them to enhance their ability to destroy tumours, and putting them back in the body to fight cancer. (Representative Image: Reuters)

Australian researchers have developed a drug which they say is capable of boosting the power of a promising new class of treatment that reprogrammes the body’s own immune cells to fight cancer. The therapy involves removing a patient’s own immune cells, genetically engineering them to enhance their ability to destroy tumours, and putting them back in the body to fight cancer. Although this form of immunotherapy, known as Chimeric Antigen Receptor (CAR) T-cells, is showing great potential for blood cancers, such as acute lymphoid leukaemia, so far it has not been as effective in solid tumours, the Herald Sun reported.

But Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre researchers Associate Professor Phillip Darcy and Dr Paul Beavis may have found a way to enhance its effectiveness in these cancers in laboratory experiments. Professor Darcy said the immune cells, known as T-cells, naturally seek out tumour cells and when they find their target they recruit companions to help them fight infection and disease. For some reason, even when these cells are genetically engineered into supercharged CAR T-cells, solid tumours still appear capable of switching the cells off or forming a barricade to stop them destroying the cancer.

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“The suppressive tumour environment dampens down the ability of the immune cells so we needed to give the cells something extra to be able to work in those environments,” Dr Beavis said. “One of the techniques used by the tumour cells to suppress the immune cells is to produce a metabolite called adenosine,” he said. In mice and the Petri dish, the pair has shown for the first time that an experimental drug that blocks the metabolite can make the environment less suppressive, allowing the CAR T-cells to be more effective at targeting the tumour cells. They are now hoping to combine drugs of this class and CAR T-cell therapy in phase 1 human trials.

Professor Darcy said that one of the exciting benefits of this approach was that drugs of this class have already been trialled in cancer and Parkinson’s disease patients and shown to be well tolerated. “We are really excited by the results and the possibilities emerging from immunotherapy,” he said. Their research findings, which was funded by the Cancer Council Victoria, were published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

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