Tough cancer 'shields' to be targeted with antibody drug

September 14, 2012

By DAISUKE SUDO/ Staff Writer

Researchers will launch clinical trials, the first of their kind, on a cancer immunotherapy that aims to remove healthy cells that end up shielding a tumor.

Known as regulatory T cells, the cells gather around cancer as the body's immune system attacks it and thereby form a barrier protecting cancerous cells from further assault, research suggests.

The trials could begin as early as January 2013 and are expected to last three years. Research institutions involved include the University of Tokyo, Osaka University and Nagoya City University.

The goal is to find therapies effective on currently intractable cancers, including progressive lung cancer and cancer of the esophagus.

The body's immune system is effective against many pathogens. It also recognizes some cancers as foreign substances and tries to attack them.

There has been much research into immunotherapies for use in treating cancer, but they are usually designed to boost the immune system as it carries out its attack.

Regulatory T cells usually act by putting a chemical brake on an immune response. Recent studies suggest if regulatory T cells are removed it may let the immune system exert its inherent power more efficiently.

One study found that removal of regulatory T cells in mice curbed the spread of some types of cancer cells.

The clinical trials will focus on a drug called anti-CCR4 antibody (mogamulizumab), which is currently marketed as a treatment for adult T-cell leukemia.

Anti-CCR4 adheres to and eliminates regulatory T cells, fueling hopes that it may dislodge the shield they form.

It is not known which types of cancer may be most responsive. The drug will be injected into between 40 and 50 patients with malignant melanoma or cancer of the lung, stomach, esophagus or ovaries. In all, six medical facilities will take part.

If initial trials produce positive results, the number of subjects will be increased in a bid to have the drug approved for wider applications as a treatment for additional types of cancer.

By DAISUKE SUDO/ Staff Writer
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