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Friday, 24 November 2017

'Very positive results' from radical new cancer therapy with early trials planned

Written by John von Radowitz

A radical new immune therapy developed from cases of "miraculous" cancer recovery could be tested on patients as early as next year.

Scientists have found a way to screen potent cancer-killing immune cells from donor blood and multiply them by the million.

The neutrophil cells form part of the body's first line of defence against foreign invaders, known as the innate immune system.

They are believed to be a key reason why rare and lucky individuals spontaneously shrug off lethal cancers, giving rise to "miracle recovery" headlines.

Now a biotech company working with researchers from King's College London is preparing for early trials of the neutrophil treatment that could lead to a cancer therapy revolution.

Alex Blyth, chief executive of LIfT Biosciences, said: "We're not talking about simply managing cancer. We're looking at a curative therapy that you would receive once a week over the course of five to six weeks.

"Based on our laboratory and mouse model experiments we would hope to see patients experiencing complete remission.

"Our ultimate aim is to create the world's first cell bank of immensely powerful cancer-killing neutrophils."

The team is focusing first on pancreatic cancer, which killed Mr Blyth's mother Margaret in 2014, and is one of the most lethal solid cancers.

Each year around 9,618 people in the UK are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and 8,817 die from the disease, which has a five-year survival rate of less than 3%.

A key advantage of neutrophils is that a donor's cells can be given to anyone without fear of serious rejection, said Mr Blyth.

They only live in the body for five days and disappear before the recipient's immune system has properly got into gear.

The problem with neutrophils is that too often they become "blind" to cancer. There is evidence that they may not recognise a cancer cell as "foreign" and can even shield tumours from other immune system agents.

However, when they do target cancer they do so with deadly efficiency, wiping out 95% of test cancer cells in 24 hours.

It is these "special" neutrophils that form the basis of the new therapy.

LIfT's team at King's College has collected thousands of the cells discarded as an unwanted waste product by blood banks and is mass-screening them for their cancer-killing potential in the laboratory.

Those that pass the test are cultured and multiplied many times over using a secret process. The researchers are also working on a way of tweaking the cells to make them even more potent.

Neutrophils kill cancer cells either directly, by destroying them with chemicals or antibodies, or indirectly by recruiting other immune system cells.

Professor Farzin Farzaneh, who is leading the research at King's College, said: "I was initially sceptical about this when LIfT Biosciences approached us. It is something that I don't believe has been done before, and producing these specific cells with cancer-killing ability is a notion we had not thought of before.

"We are excited by these early results."

The pilot trials, potentially starting in a year's time, would involve a small number of 20 to 40 patients with pancreatic cancer, or possibly soft tissue sarcoma.

Each participant would receive weekly infusions of cancer-killing neutrophils. One patient's treatment would require around 2.5 billion of the cells.

In early laboratory tests, the scientists have shown that donor neutrophils can also kill cervical cancer cells.

So far LIfT Biosciences has received no government money and raised around £250,000 for early research from drug giants Merck, MedCity which provides support for life sciences, and crowdfunding.

A lot more funding is needed for the trials, which will cost in the order of £2.4 million.

Diana Jupp, chief executive of Pancreatic Cancer UK, said: "There are very few treatment options for pancreatic cancer, a disease which 93% of patients do not survive for five years.

"Immunotherapy is a very promising area for pancreatic cancer research, and one that we are funding as a charity. We know that pancreatic cancer puts up a barrier against immunotherapies, which makes it very difficult for them to reach pancreatic cancer cells and work as an effective treatment.

"It will be very interesting to see the results of this trial, and understand more about how well the treatment breaks down this barrier and how effectively this could work as a treatment for pancreatic cancer in the future."

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2017, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) LIfT Bio Sciences / PA Wire.