Experimental leukaemia drug boosts immune response against other cancers

In collaboration with the Press Association
3D illustration of immune cells

Experimental drugs being tested in clinical trials for leukaemia may also boost the body’s immune response against other forms of cancer, according to research from University College London (UCL).

“Treatments that train the immune system to recognise and kill cancer cells are showing huge promise in several types of cancer" - Professor Nic Jones, Cancer Research UK

The drugs target an important protein called p110δ, produced in large amounts in white blood cells called ‘leukocytes’.

Leukaemias can develop if leukocytes become cancerous, making p110δ a promising target for treating this form of cancer.

And recent clinical trials using these drugs have shown encouraging results. But until now the potential benefit of these drugs for other types of cancer had remained unexplored.

In the latest study, published in Nature, researchers working with mice bearing solid tumours found that the drugs - called p110δ inhibitors - helped boost their immune response against a range of tumour types – including breast cancer.

The team, who also included researchers from the Babraham Institute and Queen Mary University of London, went on to show that p110δ inhibitors worked by disabling one family of immune cells and releasing another type of immune cell that can target and kill tumour cells.

The findings suggest that p110δ inhibitors may be useful in combination with other treatments that harness the power of the body’s own immune system – collectively known as ‘immunotherapy’.

Professor Nic Jones, chief scientist for Cancer Research UK, which part-funded the research, said: “Treatments that train the immune system to recognise and kill cancer cells are showing huge promise in several types of cancer. This new finding, although only at an early stage, offers the potential to develop more treatments that can do this in many more cancers, including ones that have real need for more effective treatments such as pancreatic cancer.

“If the findings hold true in cancer patients this could make a big difference to many of them,” he said.

Since the drugs were already being used in trials, Professor Jones said the new research could be translated into patient benefit relatively rapidly.

The study was funded by Cancer Research UK, the BBSRC, and the Wellcome Trust.

References

  • Ali K, et al. (2014). nactivation of PI(3)K p110δ breaks regulatory T-cell-mediated immune tolerance to cancer, Nature, DOI: