News of Note—Boosting the immune response to cancer; nonopioid pain relief from the sea

Lungs
Johns Hopkins researchers are exploring a combination of epigenetic treatments in lung cancer.

Improving the immune system’s response to lung cancer

Researchers at Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center are testing combinations of epigenetic cancer drugs to try to improve immunotherapy for nonsmall cell lung cancer, they reported in the journal Cell. The epigenetic approaches are used to treat various forms of blood cancer and include 5-azacytidine and histone deacetylase inhibitors. They found that combining the two types of drugs triggered a “chemical cascade” that drew immune cells to the tumors, while simultaneously suppressing a cancer-promoting gene called MYC. In mouse models of lung cancers, they found that one particular cocktail prevented benign growths from becoming cancerous and slowed the growth of established tumors. They have now started trials in people of a combination of experimental epigenetic treatments from Astex and Merck. (Release)

Exploring the ocean for opioid alternatives

University of Utah Health has received a $10 million grant from the Department of Defense to explore the ocean for nonopioid compounds that relieve pain without causing side effects like addiction. The team is focusing on venom released by marine mollusks. The scientists have already identified a promising compound isolated from Conus regius, a cone snail found in the Caribbean Sea, and they are now developing it into a drug for clinical testing. They also plan to search for alternative pathways in the body that dull pain, in the hopes of identifying analgesics that work independently of opioid pathways. (Release)

Dual antibody treatment may improve survival in lymphoma

U.K. researchers have found that combining two types of monoclonal antibodies improves survival in mouse models of lymphoma. The drugs target CD20 and CD27, and when they’re combined, they recruit more immune cells to the tumors and exhibit an enhanced ability to kill cancer cells, the researchers reported in the journal Cancer Cell. The team is now planning a clinical trial of the drug combination in people. (Release)