Researchers have opened a new front in the war on deadly skin cancer. With their groundbreaking finding that the interleukin-9 molecule stymies melanoma growth in mice, the researchers have uncovered a potential new way to harness immune activity to combat cancer.
At Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, researchers performed a series of studies that pointed to the anti-cancer capabilities of interleukin-9. In a study of mice without the gene for TH17 immune cells and resistance to melanoma, they found increased levels of the interleukin-9 molecule. To support their suspicions, they treated mice with melanoma in a separate experiment with immune cells that churn out interleukin-9. The animals' melanoma cells suffered.
These findings, published in Nature Medicine, shed light on a potential approach to treating humans with the deadly skin cancer and could build on existing immunotherapies for melanoma such as Bristol-Myers Squibb's ($BMY) monoclonal antibody drug Yervoy (ipilimumab). That drug, which helps the immune system attack cancer, was FDA-approved last year for patients with melanoma. And early evidence from the BWH study shows that a interleukin-9 treatment could complement Yervoy.
"Right now the therapies that are out there--what both of those do is take the brakes off the T cell part of the immune system, allowing the T cells to get activated and fight melanoma even more effectively," Dr. Thomas Kupper, one of the lead investigators of the new study, told Fox News. "What we're trying to do is figure out what kinds of T cells do this best. It's really sort of complimentary work. If we can identify the right type of T cell you want to make, that sort of thinking combined with taking the brakes off the T cells--that could be synergistic."
A lot of work remains to translate the findings from the mouse studies into a treatment for humans, Kupper says. But Bristol-Myers and other drugmakers have been keen on working with academics to advance new cancer immunotherapies.
Correction: This story reported in error that a mouse study uncovered a lack of IL9 in certain mice. The story should have said an increase in the amount of IL9 was found in the mice. We regret the error.