Researchers use antibody to treat pancreatic cancer

CUTTING OFF PATHS::China Medical University head Lee Wen-hwa said the antibody severs the pathway between two proteins that play a key role in metastasis

By Sean Lin  /  Staff reporter

Wed, Mar 11, 2015 - Page 3

A pancreatic cancer therapy that utilizes injections of antibodies can double the survival rate of patients and represents a breakthrough in treating the disease, researchers announced yesterday in Taipei.

Lee Wen-hwa (李文華), chancellor of the China Medical University in Taichung and an Academia Sinica research fellow, told a news conference in Taipei that his team discovered that the cancer cells trigger the over-expression of the IL17RB receptor, a protein in the plasma membrane of surface pancreatic cancer cells that receives chemical signals.

The phenomenon is also seen in breast cancer cells, and his team had success in using the antibody to treat breast cancer.

“From our previous research, we knew that the over-expression of the IL17RB receptor positively correlates with conditions or breast cancer — the higher the level of over-expression, the worse the breast cancer becomes,” Lee said.

Hoping to replicate the success they had in treating breast cancer, the research team used the antibody targeting IL17RB on mice whose pancreases had been implanted with cancer cells and found that the survival rate of the mice doubled, from an average of 60 days to 120 days.

The antibody severs the intercellular pathway between IL17RB and chemokine, a protein secreted by cells that plays a key role in metastasis, thereby curbing the transfer of cancer cells, Lee said.

“When we cut the mice open, their lungs and livers were completely free from pancreatic cancer cells, indicating that the metastasis had been suppressed,” he said.

In addition, since IL17RB plays an insignificant role in other parts of the human body, targeting this receptor with an antibody causes minimal side effects, he said.

The findings also provide hope of treating other types of cancer that cause the over-expression of IL17RB, such as bladder cancer, oral cancer and some brain tumors, Lee said.

Pancreatic cancer is the 13th- most common cancer in the nation and is usually considered incurable, he said.

Because pancreatic cancer cells can move to other organs, operating on patients is very difficult and existing chemotherapy treatments can only extend a patient’s life by three to six months, he said.

More than 70 percent of people with pancreatic cancer die less than one year after diagnosis and about 90 percent of them die within five years, he said.

Lee said the antibody must be moderated for use on humans, which will take one to two years, and it must undergo clinical trials.

“Once it passes the clinical tests, it will enter mass production. We hope that it will become available for clinical use in five years,” he said.

A provisional patent application for the antibody was filed last year and the assessment of the patent will begin in June, Lee said.

A paper on the team’s research findings was submitted to the Journal of Experimental Medicine in September last year and was published on Tuesday last week.