Media Releases

University of Toronto Researchers Identify New Target and Rapidly Develop Antibodies to Target Pancreatic Cancer Cells

November 21, 2016

Cutting-edge Technology Exploits Cancer Cells’ Vulnerabilities to Develop New Treatments

Toron­to, ON – Researchers at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to have devel­oped a process that dra­mat­i­cal­ly cuts the amount of time it takes to cre­ate new can­cer treat­ments. Using a new break­through tech­nol­o­gy, their study, pub­lished today in Nature Med­i­cine, iden­ti­fied a new poten­tial tar­get for the treat­ment of a class of pan­cre­at­ic can­cer, and unveiled a new treat­ment option that exploits genet­ic faults to destroy can­cer cells.

Asso­ciate Pro­fes­sor Stephane Angers and PhD stu­dent Zachary Stein­hart from the Leslie Dan Fac­ul­ty of Phar­ma­cy, along with Drs. Jason Mof­fat and Sachdev Sid­hu from the Don­nel­ly Cen­tre for Cel­lu­lar and Bio­mol­e­c­u­lar Research, the Depart­ment of Mol­e­c­u­lar Genet­ics, and the Cen­tre for the Com­mer­cial­iza­tion of Anti­bod­ies and Bio­log­ics, made this dis­cov­ery using the cut­ting-edge CRISPR-Cas9 genome edit­ing tech­nol­o­gy.

Using this rev­o­lu­tion­ary tool, the team of researchers probed the func­tion of every sin­gle gene expressed by pan­cre­at­ic can­cer cells to deter­mine that one of the recep­tors (Frizzled‑5) is essen­tial for the growth of mutant pan­cre­at­ic can­cer cells. Nor­mal­ly, the sig­nal­ing path­ways acti­vat­ed by Frizzled‑5 tell cells when to divide, what types of cells to become, and when they should die. When mutat­ed or dereg­u­lat­ed, how­ev­er, they can ini­ti­ate tumour growth.

Hav­ing iden­ti­fied the key role that the Frizzled‑5 recep­tor plays in pro­mot­ing pan­cre­at­ic can­cer growth, the team rapid­ly devel­oped an anti­body drug to inhib­it the growth of these cells. The study showed that the anti­body proved high­ly effec­tive in killing the can­cer cells in patient-derived sam­ples and shrank tumours in mice with­out dam­ag­ing the sur­round­ing healthy cells.

Lever­ag­ing the Don­nel­ly Centre’s state-of-the-art plat­form for cus­tom anti­body design, the team was able to cre­ate a tar­get­ed anti­body in months – a frac­tion of the time it would nor­mal­ly take to devel­op a safe and effec­tive treat­ment for a spe­cif­ic can­cer.

As part of this study, the team also explored the role of this recep­tor in col­orec­tal can­cer, a form of can­cer that shares com­mon fea­tures with pan­cre­at­ic can­cer. The results of this study indi­cate that Frizzled‑5 may be a fac­tor across mul­ti­ple can­cer types, broad­en­ing the poten­tial use of anti-Friz­zled‑5 anti­bod­ies as a tar­get­ed can­cer ther­a­py.

“Ulti­mate­ly, this study revealed genet­ic vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties in pan­cre­at­ic can­cer cells that could be exploit­ed through the devel­op­ment of new tar­get­ed anti­bod­ies to inhib­it tumor growth,” not­ed Dr. Angers of the Cen­tre for Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal Oncol­o­gy. “By tar­get­ing the exact sig­nal­ing cir­cuit acti­vat­ed in these tumors, these rapid­ly devel­oped anti­bod­ies have shown con­sid­er­able promise as a can­cer treat­ment. More­over, the state-of-the-art anti­body devel­op­ment plat­form devel­oped at U of T is a trans­for­ma­tion­al leap for­ward in our abil­i­ty to rapid­ly cre­ate excit­ing new treat­ments to com­bat var­i­ous can­cers.”

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For more infor­ma­tion about this excit­ing new dis­cov­ery, please con­tact:

Jef Ekins
Man­ag­er, Mar­ket­ing & Com­mu­ni­ca­tions
Leslie Dan Fac­ul­ty of Phar­ma­cy, Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to

Jovana Drin­jakovic
Writer at the Don­nel­ly Cen­tre
Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to
O: 416.946.8253
C: 416.543.7820