Academia Sinica develops new antibody able to kill cancer cells

11/16/2020 08:32 PM
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CNA photo Nov. 16, 2020
CNA photo Nov. 16, 2020

Taipei, Nov. 16 (CNA) A research team at Taiwan's top academic research institution has developed a new antibody tool that has shown promising results in killing malignant tumor cells in mice and could eventually be turned into a therapeutic drug.

Wu Han-chung (吳漢忠), head of Academia Sinica's Institute of Cellular and Organismic Biology and the research team, said at a press conference Monday that the team's starting point was a molecule often seen as an important target in identifying cancer cells.

The molecule, known as EpCAM (which stands for Epithelial Cell Adhesion Molecule), is a protein on cell membranes that is commonly seen in epithelial tissues and in malignant tumors.

It plays a role in the attachment, movement, reproduction and differentiation of cells, Wu said.

According to Wu, his team found that EpCAM acts through growth factor signaling to stabilize another cell-surface molecule, PD-L1, which allows tumor cells to escape recognition by immune systems, leading to tumor growth.

Wu knew the team was on the right track because methods to mitigate PD-L1 action have proven quite effective in clinical settings, Academia Sinica said in a statement on the breakthrough achieved by Wu's team.

Developers of cancer therapies through immune checkpoint inhibitors such as CTLA4 and PD-1 even earned Nobel Prizes in Physiology or Medicine in 2018, the statement said.

Once Wu's team identified the importance of EpCAM in the process, it developed a neutralizing antibody tool, called EpAb2-6, to prevent EpCAM signaling and decrease the level of PD-L1 in cancer cells in a lab setting.

That led to the death of cancer cells and activated the ability of T cells to kill cancer cells, Academia Sinica said.

"Since EpCAM is enriched in many types of cancer cells, the findings and tools from this study have the potential to broadly impact cancer diagnosis and treatment," the statement said.

At the press conference, Wu said EpAb2-6 was the first antibody that can kill cancer cells directly and inhibit cancer cell metastasis.

In laboratory experiments using mice with colorectal cancer, the new neutralizing antibody proved effective in keeping 50 percent of the sick mice alive for more than 350 days, while the control group died within 150 days, Wu said.

Academic Sinica said the antibody has been patented in many countries, and work is underway to develop its applications.

Wu's research team has obtained NT$50 million (US$1.75 million) in funding from the Ministry of Science and Technology to develop a therapeutic antibody drug based on its findings, and Wu said he expected pre-clinical tests within two years.

The latest study by Wu and his group was published in the world- renowned journal, Cancer Research, in September under the title: "EpCAM signaling promotes tumor progression and protein stability of PD-L1 through the EGFR pathway."

(By Yang Shu-min and Elizabeth Hsu)

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