Antibodies engineered to carry anti-cancer drugs are increasingly being used to treat a variety of diseases, including breast cancer, and future treatment might not only be used at lower doses, but also have reduced side effects too.
Researchers at the University of Oxford have demonstrated in the laboratory that destruction of cancer cells can be enhanced by optimising trastuzumab (Herceptin) antibodies used to treat HER2+ breast cancer while reducing the dose and the possible side effects.
Against Breast Cancer’s Dr. Weston Struwe is one of the co-authors of the study recently published in the highly respected international journal, Angewandte Chemie.
Working at a molecular level, Dr Struwe and colleagues used the sugars normally present on trastuzumab antibodies as a scaffold for adding anti-cancer drugs. By doing so, they could change the amount of drug and select for antibody drug conjugates (ADC) that exhibited enhanced killing of breast cancer cells as well as anti-inflammatory properties, to produce a more potent treatment with reduced side effects.
By producing an antibody mixture with purity over 90%, the team have demonstrated that their new optimized ADC would work just as well at lower doses or better than the current antibody treatment, leading to fewer side effects being experienced by breast cancer patients undergoing treatment. A collaborative approach, the team, led by Professor Benjamin Davis acknowledges assistance from a variety of sources and was primarily funded by Cancer Research UK
“We are learning how to manipulate the function and biological impact of antibodies, such as Herceptin, by altering the sugar molecules that decorate them to optimize activity. We are now exploring how the sugars could be used to attach cell-killing components to optimized antibodies and further improve their cancer-destroying capability.”
More people are surviving breast cancer for longer, however, the side effects of trastuzumab treatment, which can range from fever, nausea, fatigue, diarrhoea, and sleep issues to more serious heart, lung or liver problems should not be underestimated.
Trastuzumab remains one of the best treatments for most types of HER2+ cancer, and although this research is in its early stages, news of possible improvements to its overall effectiveness should be greeted as very welcome