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14th Oct 2015

Malaria protein could be key to curing cancer for good

Katie Mythen-Lynch

Doctors working on a malaria vaccine for pregnant women have stumbled upon a protein that could potentially cure nine out of ten cancers.

While looking into why pregnant women are particularly susceptible to malaria, the teams discovered that the mosquito-borne parasite produces a protein called “VAR2CSA”, which binds to a particular type of sugar molecule found in the placenta. Further studies showed that the same sugar molecule is also found on the majority of cancer cell types.

The groundbreaking discovery was made by researchers from the University of British Columbia, BC Cancer Agency, University of Copenhagen and VAR2 Pharmaceuticals and published in the journal Cancer Cell.

“I have worked for more than 25 years developing therapeutics for the treatment of cancer and I have never seen a target so broadly expressed on different forms of cancer as VAR2CSA,” said John Babcook, President and CSO of biopharmaceutical company Kairos Therapeutics.

John and a team of scientists at Kairos Therapeutics have now developed a novel technology to arm antibodies and other targeting proteins with high potency toxins that could be used to specifically kill cancer cells.

By attaching Kairos’ novel toxins to VAR2CSA, the results showed that over 95 per cent of tumour cell lines were successfully treated across a broad array of cancer types, including pancreatic, brain, blood, ovarian, gastric, lung, bladder, skin, prostate, and breast.

One in three people in Ireland will develop cancer during their lifetime, with 30,000 new cases diagnosed each year, a number that is expected to rise to over 40,000 per year by 2020.

Around 42 per cent of men and 50 per cent of women diagnosed with cancer currently survive for five years and longer. With the compound for clinical trials of the treatment in humans currently being developed, here’s hoping science is getting closer to triumphing over this cruel disease.