By Mark Reynolds
British scientists are developing an immune therapy based on blood cells from patients who have made “miracle” recoveries from the disease.
They believe they have found a way to extract the cancer-killing immune cells from donor blood and then multiply them by the million.
The team at King’s College London say they are excited by early results of lab tests.
It could signal not only better treatment for cancer but also one day a possible cure.
Cancer research bodies in the UK described the breakthrough last night as “very promising”.
The therapy involves neutrophil cells, which form part of the body’s first line of defence against foreign invaders.
Such cells are believed to be a key reason why some lucky individuals spontaneously and inexplicably shrug off lethal cancers, giving rise to “miracle recovery” headlines.
The researchers, along with a leading biotech company, are now preparing for early trials on patients.
Alex Blyth, chief executive of LIfT Biosciences, said: “We’re not talking about simply managing cancer. We’re looking at a curative therapy that you would receive once a week over the course of five to six weeks.
“Based on our laboratory and mouse model experiments we would hope to see patients experiencing complete remission. Our ultimate aim is to create the world’s first cell bank of immensely powerful cancerkilling neutrophils.”
The team is focusing first on pancreatic cancer
The team is focusing first on pancreatic cancer, which killed Mr Blyth’s mother Margaret in 2014.
Each year about 9,600 people in the UK are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and 8,800 die from the disease.
A key advantage of neutrophil treatment is that a donor’s cells can be given to anyone without fear of serious rejection, Mr Blyth explained.
They live in the body for only five days and disappear before the recipient’s immune system has got into gear.
The problem with neutrophils is that too often they become “blind” to cancer.
There is evidence that they may not recognise a cancer cell as “foreign” and can even shield tumours from other immune system agents.
However, when they do target cancer they do so with deadly efficiency, wiping out 95 per cent of test cancer cells in 24 hours.
LIfT’s team at King’s College has collected thousands of the cells discarded as an unwanted waste product by blood banks and is screening them for their cancer-killing potential.
Those that pass the test are cultured and multiplied many times over using a secret process.
The researchers are also working on a way of tweaking the cells to make them even more potent.
Neutrophils kill cancer cells either directly, by destroying them with chemicals or antibodies, or indirectly by recruiting other immune system cells.
Professor Farzin Farzaneh, who is leading the research at King’s College, said: “I was initially sceptical about this when LIfT Biosciences approached us.
“It is something that I don’t believe has been done before, and producing these specific cells with cancerkilling ability is a notion we had not thought of before. We are excited by these early results.”
Diana Jupp, chief executive of Pancreatic Cancer UK, said: “There are very few treatment options for pancreatic cancer.
“Immunotherapy is a very promising area for research and one that we are funding as a charity.
The trial would involve a small number of between 20 and 40 patients. “We know that pancreatic cancer puts up a barrier against immunotherapies, which makes it very difficult for them to work as an effective treatment. It will be very interesting to see the results of this trial.”
Anna Perman, of Cancer Research UK, said: “It’s too early to say whether this research will be safe or effective in humans as they’ve only studied it in mice and cells. But we look forward to seeing future results.
“These types of treatments for cancer are exciting, yet can be complicated. They can have severe side effects.”
The trial, potentially starting in a year’s time, would involve a small number of between 20 and 40 patients.