RCSI (Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland) and Almac Discovery, a biopharmaceutical company focused on discovering and identifying innovative therapeutics for the treatment of cancer, have announced a major research collaboration that aims to gain a new understanding of how to target tumor cells that are resistant to cancer therapies and cause cancer to spread to other parts of the body. The project will explore the potential of a drug, based on initial research by RCSI’s Professor Tracy Robson and developed by Almac Discovery, which is currently undergoing a phase I dose escalation trial for patients with solid tumors. It is expected that the trial will be expanded in a biomarker selected patient population within ovarian cancer, however the drug, ALM201, has the potential to treat a range of other cancers.
Ovarian cancer ranks among the top ten diagnosed and top five deadliest cancers in most countries. Unfortunately approximately 80% of patients present with advanced disease, therefore it is critical that clinicians are provided with as many treatment options as possible which can target this disease, both as a monotherapy and in combination with existing therapies.
The research team at RCSI, led by Professor Robson, head of Molecular & Cellular Therapeutics, will investigate a certain type of cell that is present in all tumors, known as cancer stem cells. These cancer stem cells are resistant to both radiotherapy or chemotherapy and can facilitate the spread of cancer around the body. The research will focus on how a novel protein, called FKBPL, which occurs naturally in the body and has a unique ability to target cancer stem cells, can transform them into more ‘normal’ tumor cells. These cells can then be more easily killed by chemotherapy and radiotherapy, therefore reducing the risk of cancer reoccurrence in the patient.
Professor Robson, said, “Cancer stem cells are a major barrier to successful radiotherapy and chemotherapy and can result in failure of these treatments. Our initial data demonstrates that ALM201 can transform these cells so they are no longer resistant to these therapies. This is a promising development and will complement the anti-angiogenic activity already demonstrated for this drug. This means that ALM201can block the formation of tumor blood vessels that would otherwise allow cancer to continue to grow. The funding provided by Almac will enable us to carry out further research in order to fully understand the mechanism behind its anti-cancer stem cell activity. This research is a key step on the journey to making this treatment available to patients for whom all other forms of therapy have failed.”
Stephen Barr, president and managing director, Almac Discovery, added, “ALM201 continues to surprise us as we uncover the complexities of its effects. The interaction of ALM201 with cancer stem cells, if proven with this research, opens up potential further treatment options for cancer patients that can be explored in the clinic.”
RCSI is ranked in the top 250 institutions worldwide in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings (2016-2017). It is an international not-for-profit health sciences institution, with its headquarters in Dublin, focused on education and research to drive improvements in human health worldwide.