Publish Date: 
Thursday, April 30, 2020 - 09:15

Australian scientists are ready to trial a new ‘precision-medicine’ agent designed to deliver imaging agents and anti-cancer drugs to ovarian and pancreatic cancers in patients with advanced disease.

The trial will be the culmination of nearly two decades of research by Mater Research’s Professor John Hooper, whose laboratory is located in the Translational Research Institute (TRI) in Brisbane. Professor Hooper has developed a biomolecule, which strongly binds to a protein enriched on the surface of ovarian and pancreatic cancer cells, allowing it to seek out cancer-only cells.

“Our agent is very exciting and if successful, it will open up a new way to provide targeted treatment options for advanced ovarian or pancreatic cancers,” said Professor Hooper.

“Initially, we will trial the agent in patients with a radio-tracer attached. For safety reasons, we need to confirm that the new agent homes preferentially to cancer cells,” he said.

“In the laboratory, we’ve shown that while normal ovary and pancreas cells don’t produce the protein, the tumours of about 90 per cent of patients do. If this is the case in patients, we can begin trialling the use of the biomolecule with anti-cancer drugs attached. This will allow us to attack the cancerous cells while having little impact on the normal cells.

“Our approach is more precise, personalised and reduces side-effects, which is obviously better for patients.”

The new agent may also benefit patients with colorectal cancer. Together, colorectal, pancreatic and ovarian cancers account for a quarter of all cancer deaths in Australia. Less than 10% of pancreatic cancer patients and 50% of women with ovarian cancer survive five years post diagnosis.I,II

Professor Hooper has applied for a $2 million research grant to begin a Phase I clinical trial. It will cost more than $1.5 million to produce and validate the agent for trial.

“It has been my dream to find a cancer cure and now I’m at the point where we can start using this exciting agent in patients,” said Professor Hooper.

More than 30 clinicians and researchers have worked on developing the new agent, from CSIRO, The University Queensland, Princess Alexandra Hospital, Royal Brisbane & Women’s Hospital, and the Herston Imaging Research Facility.

According to Professor Hooper, the close involvement of these colleagues has been important to the success of the project: “The collaborators brought clinical and scientific expertise to the project essential for linking the biomolecule with radio-tracers and chemotherapeutic drugs and their testing in laboratory models of ovarian and pancreatic cancers.”

Recent journal publications on this body of research

Kryza T., Khan T., Puttick S., et al, 2, “Effective targeting of intact and proteolysed CDCP1 for imaging and treatment of pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma”, Theranostics, 2020; 10(9):4116-4133 doi:10(9):4116-4133. doi:10.7150/thno.43589

Harrington B.S., He Y., Khan T., et al, “Anti-CDCP1 immuno-conjugates for detection and inhibition of ovarian cancer”, Theranostics, 2020;10(5):2095-2114. doi: 10.7150/thno.30736.

Funding sources

The research has received grant support from the Avner Pancreatic Cancer Foundation, Cancer Council Queensland, Tour de Cure and the National Health and Medical Research Council.

About Professor Hooper

Professor John Hooper is a Mater Foundation Fellow and a Senior Research Fellow at Mater Research-The University of Queensland. John leads the Cancer Cell Biology Research Group and is the author of more than 80 scientific publications with his research currently focused on understanding molecular mechanisms underlying cancer and the development of new approaches to detect and treat cancer.

Photo: Professor John Hooper. Image courtesy of Avner Pancreatic Cancer Foundation

[ii] VedieA.L., Neuzillett C., “Pancreatic cancer: Best supportive care.” Presse Med 2019; 48:e175-e85.