Supercharging research towards effective cancer treatment

Australian researchers aim to use a newly-funded collaboration to develop a new generation of cancer treatment, "supercharging" antibodies with a drug delivery vehicle for targeting tumours.

UQ Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology scientists have teamed up with Sydney bioscience company EnGenelC Limited, securing a 352,000AUD Australian Research Council Linkage-Projects grant over three years.

EnGeneIC has developed minicells, derived from bacteria, with special properties which allow them to be packed with both conventional anti-cancer drugs and a relatively new anti-cancer therapeutic called small interfering RNA (siRNA).

The minicells are targeted to specific cancer cells with bispecific antibodies. The antibodies made by EnGenelC have so far not been "optimal".

To address this, UQ's Associate Professor Stephen Mahler, Dr Trent Munro and Dr Martina Jones aim to identify receptors on cancer cells and develop antibodies to target them.

The antibodies will have two arms: one binds to the minicell and the other to the tumour cell receptor, ensuring a targeted delivery which leaves a cancer patient's healthy cells untouched.

Researchers involved in the collaboration hope the targeted delivery will dramatically reduce the side effects of chemotherapy treatment, in which drugs flood the entire body and destroy healthy cells in the process.

AIBN Associate Professor Stephen Mahler said the research was vital, given cancer was a leading cause of death around the world and treatments were "non-specific".

"A major problem is the non-specific action of drugs used for treatment," Associate Professor Mahler said.

"The targeted minicell will circumvent current problems associated with cancer treatment such as development of multi-drug resistance and limited drug potency due to inadequate concentration at the cell surface.

"The minicell is a drug delivery vehicle, capable of packaging a variety of drugs at concentrations thousands of times greater than other known particles.

"The project will develop tumour-specific antibodies that will target minicells to tumours, improving cancer survival rates."

In a paper published in respected journal Nature Biotechnology, EnGeneIC collaborators Dr Jennifer MacDiarmid and Dr Himanshu Brahmbatt demonstrated that their targeted minicells, containing siRNA molecules and cytotoxic drugs, showed an enhanced anti-tumour activity compared to conventional cancer drug therapies.

EnGenelC began working with AIBN as a client of the institute's National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS) Biologics Facility.

This facility will be used to develop the antibodies to bind to the minicell as part of the drug delivery system.

World Health Organisation figures showed cancer was a leading cause of death worldwide and accounted for 7.6 million deaths, or about 13 per cent of all deaths, in 2008.