'Trojan horse' drug shows promise for untreatable cancers

A new cancer drug that uses a ‘Trojan horse’ approach to enter cancer cells and destroy them from within has shown promising results across six different forms of cancer.

Trojan horse treatmentDmitriy Rybin | Shutterstock

The new treatment succeeded in significantly improving survival among a minority of patients with cancers that other drugs had failed to treat.

A team of researchers from The Institute of Cancer Research, London and The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust led a phase I/II clinical trial that included nearly 150 patients with different types of cancers that had stopped responding to standard treatments.

As reported in The Lancet Oncology, the new treatment either shrank or stopped tumors growing in one-quarter of patients with cervical or bladder cancer and almost 15% of patients with lung or ovary cancer.

The new drug is made up on an antibody with a cancer-killing agent attached to its tail end. The antibody binds to receptors present on the surface of cancer cells and then draws the chemotherapy agent inside.

What is so exciting about this treatment is that its mechanism of action is completely novel – it acts like a Trojan horse to sneak into cancer cells and kill them from the inside.”

Johann de Bono, Lead Author

The researchers saw tumors shrink or stop growing in 27.0% of bladder cancer cases, 26.5% of cervical, 14% ovarian, 13% esophageal, 13% non-small cell lung and 7% endometrial.

The treatment responses lasted for an average of 5.7 months and, in some cases, for up to 9.5 months.

“Our early study shows that it has the potential to treat a large number of different types of cancer, and particularly some of those with very poor survival rates,” says de Bono.

The results have been so successful that the drug is now being tested in trials of other cancers including pancreatic, bowel and head and neck. It is also being tested as a second-line treatment for cervical cancer in a phase II trial.

“We have already begun additional trials of this new drug in different tumor types and as a second-line treatment for cervical cancer, where response rates were particularly high. We are also developing a test to pick out the patients most likely to respond,” says de Bono.

Chief Executive of The Institute of Cancer Research, Paul Workman says it is exciting to see the potential this drug has shown across a range of difficult-to-treat cancers:

I look forward to seeing it progress in the clinic and hope it can benefit patients who currently have run out of treatment options.”

Paul Workman, Chief Executive, ICR

Sally Robertson

Written by

Sally Robertson

Sally has a Bachelor's Degree in Biomedical Sciences (B.Sc.). She is a specialist in reviewing and summarising the latest findings across all areas of medicine covered in major, high-impact, world-leading international medical journals, international press conferences and bulletins from governmental agencies and regulatory bodies. At News-Medical, Sally generates daily news features, life science articles and interview coverage.

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