One day we will treat cancer with a small pill just like aspirin. Does that seem magic to you?
According to the lead researcher Khaled Barakat, it kind of is magic. The team led by Barakat study on innovative immunotherapies that could help knock out multiple types of cancer simply by empowering the immune system.
In terms of what could help treat all kinds of cancer in the body, Barakat gives a simple answer: “a very potent molecule.”
Your “body neighborhood”
Imagine your body as a large neighborhood with all different types of cells working and connecting to keep the neighborhood operating smoothly.
Most cells are good guys who help your body move around freely, think freely, and live a happy life. There are sometimes bad guys, though – like virus, bacteria, or disorders caused by some cells not working properly. Of course, police – T cells also exist, with your immune system as the police station.
One day, a small group of your good-guy cells turns into bad guys. They form a gang, and start to co-opt police checkpoints. The checkpoints are for the police to prevent overactive immune response.
With so many checkpoints, the police are ordered to stop overaction repeatedly, so they stop attacking the bad guys.
The idea is to help the police work normally again and fight against the cancer cells.
Small molecules, big promise
In recent years, researchers have tried to use antibodies to reactivate the T cells. However, antibodies are large molecules that can remain in the body for months, causing the immune system to attack normal organs and tissues. What’s more, the treatment can be extremely expensive and difficult to administer.
A small molecule, developed in Barakat’s lab, is proven to be able to boost the immune system without harmful side effects.
The new study reveals a compound that turns on the immune system by targeting the PD-1 checkpoint. Barakat said a second lead compound is under development that would target a different checkpoint known as CTLA-4.
The small molecules can leave the body within a few hours, and can also penetrate deeper into tissues. Another exciting fact is that it’s not expensive and can be manufactured into pill form.
Last but not least, it can be widely applied because the same immune check points are found on many cancer types, so the same drug could be used to combat melanoma, breast cancer, lung cancer, lymphoma and even brain cancer.
Although further research still needs to be carried out, according to Barakat, since the concept is already proved, what’s left is to get it perfected. Barakat has started a company for researching called HEKA Therapeutics, which was the name of the god of magic in ancient Egypt.
In foreseen future, cancer may be just cured by a simple small pill.