A new study shows that a drug derived from a protein found in the malaria parasite stopped chemotherapy-resistant bladder cancer tumors growing. The researchers say that the finding could lead to much-needed new treatments for cases of bladder cancer that do not respond to standard therapy.
“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 drug,” he adds.
The bladder is a hollow organ in the pelvis that stores urine before it leaves the body. Muscle tissue in the walls of the bladder allows it to stretch to accommodate urine.
Bladder cancer arises when cells in the bladder grow out of control. As more cancer cells grow, they can develop into a tumor and spread to neighboring tissue and other parts of the body.
The standard of care for MIBC is “cisplatin-based neoadjuvant chemotherapy.” However, only around 40 percent of patients show a major response to this first-line treatment and therefore, “second-line treatment options for MIBC are currently in great demand,” note the authors in their paper.The new study builds on previous work by Prof. Daugaard and co-investigator Ali Salanti, a professor in the Center for Medical Parasitology at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark.
That research showed that a protein called VAR2CSA – normally found in the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum – could deliver cancer drugs into tumors.
The researchers say that the protein attaches to a particular group of sugar chains – called “oncofetal chondroitin sulfate glycosaminoglycan chains (ofCS)” – that are normally found only in cancer tumors and placental tissue.
For the new study, the team used mice implanted with tumors taken from human patients with highly aggressive forms of MIBC.
The researchers developed an experimental drug that combined certain domains of the VAR2CSA malarial protein with three cell-toxic compounds derived from a marine sponge.
The team is now working on a way to produce the drug on a larger scale for use in clinical trials. Profs Daugaard and Salanti will be leading the work at a company that they started.
Prof Mads Daugaard said that “We’re very excited by these results because it shows that we are on our way to developing a completely new treatment option for lethal bladder cancer. It has the potential to have a tremendous impact on patient care.”