Exciting new drug breakthrough in bladder cancer

Last Updated on December 2, 2014 by Joseph Gut – thasso

November 27, 2014 – A drug which makes a wide range of cancers more vulnerable to the body’s immune system is “exciting” and may mark a new era, say doctors. The drug MPDL3280A strips cancer cells of the “camouflage” they use to evade attack by the immune system. In a most detailed study, published in Nature, some patients completely recovered from terminal bladder cancer.

Bladder CancerGenerally, the immune system is in delicate balance with some chemicals in the body encouraging a strong vigorous response, while others try to dampen it down. Tumours can hijack this system to hide from the immune system. One trick which tumours use is a protein called PD-L1 which is normally used to prevent autoimmune diseases.

An international team of scientists has been trialling a drug to block programmed death-ligand 1 (PD-L1), produced by the company Roche, on 68 people with advanced bladder cancer. All the patients had tried chemotherapy and had been given six-to-eight months to live. More than half the patients, whose tumours were using PD-L1 to hide from the immune system, showed signs of recovery. In two patients there were no signs of cancer after the treatment. One in ten patients responded to the experimental therapy even if PD-L1 was not present in the tumour.

Dr Tom Powles, an oncologist at the Barts Cancer Institute and part of the research team, said “There have been no new drugs for bladder cancer for 30 years. The tumours have developed a camouflage layer, PD-L1, and by removing the camouflage the tumour becomes identifiable. A subgroup of patients seems to do exceptionally well.”

The drug has been given “breakthrough therapy” status in the US and could be used widely by patients there at the end of 2015, if a larger trial shows the same results. Much larger randomised clinical trials would be needed in order for the experimental therapy to be used in Europe.

Ph.D.; Professor in Pharmacology and Toxicology. Senior expert in theragenomic and personalized medicine and individualized drug safety. Senior expert in pharmaco- and toxicogenetics. Senior expert in human safety of drugs, chemicals, environmental pollutants, and dietary ingredients.