New drug to supercharge immune cells in the fight against cancer

Australia Cancer Research
The vascular team at the Harry Perkins Institute, Image courtesy of the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research.

A new cancer treatment with the dual ability to normalise tumour blood vessels and boost the body’s immune system, has been developed by researchers from the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research and The University of Western Australia.

Many tumours can become resistant to the body’s immune system by creating a barrier of tangled blood vessels that feed the tumour while locking out immune cells that would attack cancer cells.

Professor Ruth Ganss, head of the Perkins Cancer and Cell Biology Division, said the new treatment worked by generating more “normal” blood vessels and lymph-node-like structures within the cancer, which together enabled immune cells to better reach the cancer core.

“Lymph nodes, a vital component of our immune system, normally only exist outside of the cancer and work to filter cancer cells and generate white blood cells that fight infection,” Professor Ganss said.

“Our drug strengthens the immune response against tumours by inducing these lymph-node-structures together with normalised blood vessels, producing immune cells that infiltrate deep into the cancer. There are currently no single treatments available which can produce these two features in cancers.”

“Our research shows that once our drug has triggered the lymph-node-structures within the cancer, current immunotherapies that have been approved for clinical use, can work more effectively,” Professor Ganss said.
“We’ve tested our treatment on pancreas and lung cancer models, which are particularly difficult to treat, and have had very promising results.”

“We envision that a combination of our drug and existing immunotherapies, will greatly enhance the outcomes for patients in the future.”

Perkins Director, Professor Peter Leedman, said the treatment was a novel approach to overcome the challenge that occurs when tumours become resistant to the body’s immune system.

“Immunotherapy is an exciting new area of research, whereby the immune system is amplified to support the body’s natural defenses to help fight cancer,” Professor Leedman said.

“Professor Ganss and her team are building on this groundbreaking work, to develop combination therapies that could deliver the best outcomes for patients.”

The research was published in the journal Nature Immunology.

This news was originally published on the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research website.

ACRF has supported cancer research at Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research by providing two grants, totalling $3.6 million, towards cutting-edge cancer research equipment and technology.