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Adapter makes immune cells destroy cancer

An adaptor makes immune cells fight cancer cells. Such “BiTE” agents have already proven effective against blood, lung and prostate cancer, researchers report.

BiTE molecules are designed to form a bridge between cancer cells (yellow) and cytotoxic T cells (blue).
BiTE molecules are designed to form a bridge between cancer cells (yellow) and cytotoxic T cells (blue).

“BiTE” (Bi-specific T-cell engagers) agents have two binding arms: one holds the cancer cell in place, the other docks onto an immune cell (T-cell) and activates its master switch so that it destroys the cancer cell, explained immunologist Peter Kufer of “Amgen Research” (Munich) at an event in Vienna.

“T cells are the most potent defence cells of our immune system, and we have many billions of them in our body”, Kufer said. “However, most of them are not directed against cancer cells, but against cells infected by viruses, for example.” BiTE agents are like an adaptor that you use to make all the T-cells quasi armed against cancer cells. According to Kufer, patients can be treated with this until they are practically cancer-free. Recent clinical studies have shown that the active principle not only works against blood cancers, but also against prostate and lung cancer.

Effectively preventing relapses

It is also possible to genetically modify T-cells so that they recognise cancer cells without adapters, explained Ulrich Jäger from the Clinical Department of Haematology and Haemostaseology at the Medical University of Vienna. Just like the BiTE method, this form of therapy is particularly effective in preventing cancer recurrences, he said. “Unfortunately, it often happens that a few tumour cells remain undetected in the body despite successful cancer treatment.” This “seed” for new tumours and metastases can be destroyed with a “consolidation therapy”.

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Written by sda

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