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Grant Supports Development of New Breed of Cancer Treatments

By Eric Sauter

Scientists from the Florida campus of The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) have been awarded $2 million from National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health to develop a new breed of cancer therapies that will heighten the ability of the body’s own immune system to kill specific tumor cells.

Christoph Rader, a TSRI associate professor, will be the principal investigator for the new five-year study.

The study will focus on the development of what are known as “bispecific antibodies” that kill cancer by binding to tumor cells with one arm while simultaneously activating the body’s own immune cells to attack and kill the malignant cells.

“In this study, we are targeting ovarian cancer and using it as a broad platform indication,” Rader said. “The distinctive feature of our new class of chemically programmed bispecific antibodies is their unprecedented versatility. Once we show this concept works, we can easily expand it to other cancers.”

When the body encounters an intruder, like a virus, for example, the immune system releases antibodies that recognize the intruder by markers called antigens on the intruder cell surface. Antibodies attach themselves to the invading cell and mark it for destruction.

The problem with cancer cells is that they’re not usually taken for invaders—they’re our own cells, after all. But they do have an abundance of antigens. By manufacturing antibodies that recognize specific cancer antigens, these therapeutics activate the body’s immune response, specifically cytotoxic T cells, also known as killer T-cells, to kill the cancer.

Bispecific antibodies offer an emerging category of next-generation drugs for cancer therapy, Rader said. According to a 2012 study published in the journal Cancer Immunity, more than 40 different formats of bispecific antibodies have been designed and produced in the laboratory.

The number of the new grant is 1R01CA181258.

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“We are targeting ovarian cancer and using it as a broad platform indication,” says Associate Professor Christoph Rader. (Photo by James McEntee.)