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Could a Harmless Bacterium Be a Cure for Cancer?

Cancer

[DIGEST: The Guardian, Immuno-Oncology, American Cancer Society]

A new drug shows promise in combating metastatic pancreatic cancer with no side effects – and it’s made from common bacteria.

Metastatic pancreatic cancer accounts for only 3 percent of all cancers in the U.S., but 7 percent of all cancer deaths. It has a median survival of 3.5 months if it goes untreated, and six months with treatment, though some patients do live longer. The cancer originates in the pancreas, a small organ that works as part of the digestive system and also produces insulin. But for metastatic forms of pancreatic cancer, it quickly spreads to other areas of the body, like the liver and the lungs.

In a trial study conducted at St. George’s University of London, doctors found that patients treated with an injection of IMM-101 in addition to the standard chemotherapy drug gemcitabine had higher survival outcomes than patients treated only with chemotherapy. Although the study was small (only 110 people participated in the trial), lead doctor Angus Dalgleish was encouraged by the results.

Cancer
Dr. Angus Dalgleish. (Credit: Source.)

“This is the first time we have got an immunotherapy that is a really good candidate to help control pancreatic cancer, which is one of the biggest killing diseases,” said Dalgleish, a professor of oncology at St. George’s University of London.

Made from Mycobacterium obuense (a harmless bacterium in the same genus as those that cause leprosy and tuberculosis), IMM-101 works by revving up the immune system to mount an attack on the cancer cells. The injection stimulates a variety of immune system cells to help them get past the shield created by pancreatic tumor.

Unlike immune checkpoint inhibitor immunotherapy drugs, which can cause the immune system to attack healthy tissue as well as cancer cells, IMM-101 has not been shown to have 

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  • Lorraine Boissoneault is a writer in Chicago who covers science, history, foreign affairs, and adventure. She's written for Weather.com, Salon, Forbes, JSTOR Daily and many others. Her first book, The Last Voyageurs, was published by Pegasus in April 2016.

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