Drug created from malaria parasite shows promise as bladder cancer treatment

April 20, 2017

A drug created from a malaria protein stopped tumour growth of chemotherapy-resistant bladder cancer, offering hope for cancer patients not responding to standard treatments.

"This is the first study where we put the concept of using malaria proteins for cancer therapy into a direct clinical context," said Mads Daugaard, an assistant professor of urologic science at the University of British Columbia and a senior research scientist at the Vancouver Prostate Centre and the Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute. "There is a massive clinical need to find new treatments for bladder cancer and we saw an opportunity to target this disease with our new malaria ."

The study advances previous research that showed that a protein from the malaria parasite, called VAR2CSA, could target a wide range of cancer tumours.

In the new research, highly aggressive bladder cancer tumours that were completely resistant to chemotherapy were implanted in the bladder of mice. The researchers then tested whether the malaria protein could deliver drugs directly to tumours. They found that the tumours responded dramatically to the drug combo.

Eighty per cent of the treated animals were alive after 70 days whereas all the other animals, in three different control groups, succumbed to bladder cancer.

Bladder cancer is the fifth most common cancer and the most expensive cancer to manage on a per patient basis. Currently, there is only one line of chemotherapy used for and there have been few advances in finding new treatments in the past 20 years.

"No second line treatment option is available," said Daugaard. "We're very excited by these results because it shows that we are on our way to developing a completely new option for lethal cancer. It has the potential to have a tremendous impact on patient care."

In previous studies, Daugaard and his colleague Ali Salanti, at the University of Copenhagen, established that the VAR2CSA protein could be used to deliver cancer drugs directly to tumours because it binds to a sugar molecule that is found only in tumours and the placenta of pregnant animals.

These latest findings demonstrate that the same sugar is expressed in and is especially abundant in tumours that progress after being treated with the standard chemotherapy drug cisplatin.

The researchers' next steps are to design a process that could see the VAR2CSA drug combination manufactured on a larger scale to begin clinical trials. This is being led by Daugaard and Salanti through their startup company VAR2 Pharmaceuticals.

The study was published last week in the journal European Urology.

Explore further: Armed malaria protein found to kill cancer cells

More information: Roland Seiler et al, An Oncofetal Glycosaminoglycan Modification Provides Therapeutic Access to Cisplatin-resistant Bladder Cancer, European Urology (2017). DOI: 10.1016/j.eururo.2017.03.021

Related Stories

Armed malaria protein found to kill cancer cells

October 13, 2015
A new type of cancer therapy based on seemingly unrelated elements of malaria and cancer is showing promise for development. Kairos Therapeutics, a Vancouver-based biotech company spun-out of The Centre for Drug Research ...

Classification system for bladder cancer prognosis

January 29, 2014
Researchers at Lund University have developed a classification system to determine the prognosis for bladder cancer. It is hoped that this will prove useful for future bladder cancer research and drug development.

Bladder cancer clinical trial opens to patients

October 13, 2016
A bladder cancer clinical trial led by scientists at the University of Sheffield and funded by Yorkshire Cancer Research is now recruiting patients.

Malaria vaccine provides hope for a general cure for cancer

October 13, 2015
The hunt for a vaccine against malaria in pregnant women has provided an unexpected side benefit for Danish researchers, namely what appears to be an effective weapon against cancer. The scientists behind the vaccine aim ...

Blood test provides clues to bladder cancer patients' prognoses

February 13, 2017
New research indicates that about one-quarter of patients with bladder cancer treated with radical surgery on curative intent have detectable levels of tumour cells circulating in their blood. The presence of circulating ...

New research paves the way for improved individual treatment of patients with cancer

June 17, 2016
A new study headed by a research group from Aarhus University Hospital and Aarhus University in Denmark has found new molecular sub-groups in early stages of bladder cancer. This improves the understanding of why some tumours ...

Recommended for you

CAR-T immunotherapy may help blood cancer patients who don't respond to standard treatments

October 20, 2017
Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis is one of the first centers nationwide to offer a new immunotherapy that targets certain blood cancers. Newly approved ...

Researchers pinpoint causes for spike in breast cancer genetic testing

October 20, 2017
A sharp rise in the number of women seeking BRCA genetic testing to evaluate their risk of developing breast cancer was driven by multiple factors, including celebrity endorsement, according to researchers at the University ...

Study shows how nerves drive prostate cancer

October 19, 2017
In a study in today's issue of Science, researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, part of Montefiore Medicine, report that certain nerves sustain prostate cancer growth by triggering a switch that causes tumor vessels ...

Gene circuit switches on inside cancer cells, triggers immune attack

October 19, 2017
Researchers at MIT have developed a synthetic gene circuit that triggers the body's immune system to attack cancers when it detects signs of the disease.

One to 10 mutations are needed to drive cancer, scientists find

October 19, 2017
For the first time, scientists have provided unbiased estimates of the number of mutations needed for cancers to develop, in a study of more than 7,500 tumours across 29 cancer types. Researchers from the Wellcome Trust Sanger ...

Researchers target undruggable cancers

October 19, 2017
A new approach to targeting key cancer-linked proteins, thought to be 'undruggable," has been discovered through an alliance between industry and academia.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.