OCRFA Research Shows Drugs Help Anti-Tumor Immunity

(October 5, 2016) A team of researchers, including senior author and former OCRFA grantee Rugang Zhang, PhD, have been studying the relationship between PD-1 and PD-L1, a protein and an accompanying molecule, and t-cells, which are a body’s natural defense against tumor growth. PD-L1 can be found on both cancer cells and healthy cells but, when it works with PD-1, together they can impede the job of the t-cells. Drugs that target PD-L1 can work well against cancer cells but also adversely affect healthy cells as well. This cell reaction can create side effects for the patient.

This goal of this study, published in Cell Reports, was to find a drug that would target the cancer cells without negatively impacting the healthy immune cells. They found that a class of drugs, BET (bromodomain and extraterminal domain) inhibitors, which are already being tested in clinical trials for other cancers, can inhibit a member of the BET family known as BRD4 (bromodomain-containing protein 4). This is important because BRD4 directly contributes to the expression of PD-L1.

“With BET inhibitors, we believe we have found a powerful new addition to available therapeutic strategies for ovarian cancer,” states Hengrui Zhu, PhD, first author and current OCRFA grantee.

For more information, read the article on the Wistar Institute website and summary in Cell Reports.