Washington: The dreaded pancreatic cancer has the lowest survival rates among all types of cancers. However, a group of scientists are using the foot and mouth disease virus to find a cure for this often lethal condition.
The research team from the Queen Mary University of London has identified a peptide, or protein fragment, taken from the foot-and-mouth-disease virus that targets another protein, called AvB6 (alpha-v-beta-6). This protein is found at high levels on the surface of the majority of pancreatic cancer cells.
The study was published in Theranostics.
Working jointly with Spirogen and ADC Therapeutics, the team have used the peptide to carry a highly potent drug, called tesirine, to the pancreatic cancer cells. When mice with pancreatic cancer tumours were treated with the drug and peptide combination, the tumours were completely killed.
“Foot-and-mouth-disease virus uses AvB6 as a route to infect cattle, as the virus binds to this protein on a cow’s tongue. By testing pieces of the protein in the virus that attaches to AvB6, we’ve developed a route to deliver a drug specifically to pancreatic cancers,” said John Marshall, lead researcher professor from the Cancer Research UK Barts Centre.
The team performed tests of the peptide/tesirine combination in both cells in the laboratory and in mice.
Mice that had AvB6-positive tumours were given a tiny dose of the peptide-drug combination three times a week, and this stopped the tumours growing completely. But when the dose was increased and given just twice a week, all tumours in mice that were AvB6 positive were completely killed.
From the experiment, scientists were excited to offer a completely new way of treating pancreatic cancer.
Prof Marshall explained: “One advantage of targeting AvB6 is that it is very specific to cancer because most normal human tissues have little or none of this protein. So we’re hopeful that, if we can develop this into an effective treatment for pancreatic cancer, it would have limited side effects.”
The team now plan to further test the peptide and drug combination in more complex mice models, to determine if it can also impact on pancreatic cancer metastases, before moving to clinical trials.