A New Way to Shrink Cancer Tumors
A promising treatment could begin human clinical trials this year.
Rice bioengineers have shown they can eradicate advanced-stage ovarian and colorectal cancer in mice in as little as six days with a treatment that could be ready for human clinical trials later this year.
The researchers used implantable “drug factories” the size of a pinhead to deliver continuous, high doses of interleukin-2, a natural compound that activates white blood cells to fight cancer. The drug-producing beads can be implanted with minimally invasive surgery. Each contains cells engineered to produce interleukin-2 that are encased in a protective shell.
The treatment and test results were recently published in a Science Advances study co-authored by Omid Veiseh, graduate student Amanda Nash, and colleagues from Rice, the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, the University of Virginia and others.
Veiseh, a bioengineer whose lab produced the treatment, said human clinical trials could begin as soon as this fall because one of his team’s key design goals was to be able to use the treatment to help cancer patients as quickly as possible. The team chose only components that had previously proven safe for use in humans, and it has demonstrated the safety of the new treatment in multiple tests.
“We just administer once, but the drug factories keep making the dose every day, where it’s needed, until the cancer is eliminated,” Veiseh said. “Once we determined the correct dose — how many factories we needed — we were able to eradicate tumors in 100% of animals with ovarian cancer and in seven of eight animals with colorectal cancer.”
Interleukin-2 is a cytokine, a protein the immune system uses to recognize and fight disease. It is an FDA-approved cancer treatment, but Nash, who works in Veiseh’s group and is the study’s lead author, said the drug factories provoke a stronger immune response than existing interleukin-2 treatment regimens because the beads deliver higher concentrations of the protein directly to tumors.
“If you gave the same concentration of the protein through an IV pump, it would be extremely toxic,” Nash said. “With the drug factories, the concentration we see elsewhere in the body, away from the tumor site, is actually lower than what patients have to tolerate with IV treatments. The high concentration is only at the tumor site.” Nash said the same general approach used in the study could be applied to treat cancers of the pancreas, liver, lungs and other organs.
“A major challenge in the field of immunotherapy is to increase tumor inflammation and anti-tumor immunity while avoiding systemic side effects of cytokines and other pro-inflammatory drugs,” said study co-author Dr. Amir Jazaeri.
Avenge Bio, a Massachusetts-based startup co-founded by Veiseh, has licensed the cytokine-factory technology from Rice. — Jade Boyd
Omid Veiseh is an assistant professor of bioengineering. Amanda Nash is a graduate student in bioengineering. Dr. Amir Jazaeri is a professor of gynecologic oncology and reproductive medicine at MD Anderson Cancer Center.