Melbourne, July 20, 2017 — Australian researchers have developed a drug capable of reprogramming the immune system to fight cancer, China’s Xinhua news agency reported.
The landmark new therapy, developed by the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, involves removing immune cells from the body to genetically enhance them before putting them back in the body to fight cancer.
The form of immunotherapy has previously been effective in fighting blood cancers but lead scientists Phillip Darcy and Paul Beavis found a way to improve its effectiveness against solid tumors for the first time.
Darcy said that the enhanced immune cells, known as CAR T cells, have been ineffective against solid tumors which have been able to produce a metabolite called adenosine which destroys the cells.
Some tumors have even shown the ability to simply reverse the enhancements placed on the cells, making them revert to T cells which have little ability to combat the tumors.
“The suppressive tumor 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,” Darcy told Australian media today.
Researchers successfully trialled a drug in mice that blocks the metabolite, allowing CAR T cells to effectively target tumors.
They are now planning to take the drug into phase one human trials.
“We are really excited by the results and the possibilities emerging from immunotherapy,” Darcy said.
Todd Harper, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Cancer Council Victoria, said he is excited about the drug “providing more targeted treatment with less side effects.”