Israeli 2-in-1 cancer drug shows promise in boosting chemo and immunotherapy

Encouraging results seen in mice study for world’s first RNA-based drug of its kind; it helps chemotherapy attack tumors and assists immunotherapy in strengthening immune system

Nathan Jeffay is The Times of Israel's health and science correspondent

A doctor prepares a chemotherapy drug  (iStock via Getty Images)
A doctor prepares a chemotherapy drug (iStock via Getty Images)

A single Israel-developed cancer drug has been shown to boost the effectiveness of both chemotherapy and immunotherapy in mice.

The nanoparticle is the word’s first RNA-based drug to deliver an effective boost to both treatment types.

The scientific journal Advanced Materials just published a peer-reviewed study attesting to the positive effects of the new drug based on in vitro and mice studies.

The Tel Aviv University research team is now concentrating on further development, in the hope of initiating human trials.

“Usually the targets for chemotherapy and immunotherapy are not the same, which means it is hard to do it with single drug,” Dr. Seok-Beom Yong, one of the scientists behind the innovation,  told The Times of Israel.

“But we did it, and found a single drug that boosts both chemotherapy and immunotherapy.”

Illustration of the new Tel Aviv University drug (Tel Aviv University)

Chemo-immunotherapy, which combines chemotherapy with immunotherapy, is still in its infancy, with numerous drugs in clinical trials — but it is widely viewed as holding great potential for some types of cancer.

The two therapies can be complementary; while chemotherapy destroys cancer cells, immunotherapy encourages the cells of the immune system to identify and attack the remaining cancer cells.

Yet many patients fail to respond to chemo-immunotherapy, as the drug delivery isn’t targeted precisely enough. The new innovation, led by Tel Aviv University’s vice president for research and development Prof. Dan Peer, uses nanoparticles that release their load only at the specifically targeted cells. They ensure that chemotherapy is delivered to cancer cells and immunotherapy to immune cells.

Prof. Dan Peer (Tel Aviv University)

Peer said: “In our system a single nanoparticle is capable of operating in two different arenas.

“It increases the sensitivity of cancer cells resistant to chemotherapy, while also reinvigorating immune cells and increasing their sensitivity to cancer cells. Thus, with one precisely targeted nanoparticle we provide two different treatments, at very different sites.

“We tested this system in two types of lab models – one for metastasized melanoma, and the other for a local solid tumor. In both populations we observed positive effects of our delivery system.”

Yong, a scientist from South Korea who is conducting post-doctoral studies in Peer’s lab, commented: “Chemo-immunotherapy is the most promising anti-cancer strategy today, and this development could make it more viable.”

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