Galway researchers identify innovative strategy for bowel cancer treatment

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Researchers at University of Galway studying cell interactions in bowel cancer have identified innovative strategies to enhance how the body and drug treatments fight the disease.

Colorectal cancer is a leading cause of death globally with increasing incidence in developing countries and in younger people.

In Ireland alone, there are more than 2,500 newly diagnosed cases of bowel cancer every year, with limited treatment options for patients at advanced disease stage.

The findings of the research have been published in life science journal Cell Reports.

Aideen Ryan, Associate Professor in Tumour Immunology at University of Galway, said: “Unfortunately, a high proportion of colorectal cancer patients do not respond to immunotherapy.

“We have identified sugar coated molecules with sialic acid, called sialoglycans, that are present on cells in tumours, known as stromal cells.

“These are associated with poor responses to immunotherapy. Targeting these molecules enhances the immune response in tumours that have high levels of these cells.”

The research was carried out by University of Galway in collaboration with VUB, Belgium; Palleon Pharmaceuticals, Boston, USA; CÚRAM, the SFI Research Centre based at University of Galway; Glasgow Beatson Institute for Cancer Research; Queen’s University Belfast.

Dr Ryan said that the plan now is to test the effects of combining this new targeting approach with clinically approved immunotherapies in the hope that the combination will improve immune responses to cancer.

“We are fortunate to have access to drugs, called sialidases, that target sialoglycans through our collaborators Palleon Pharmaceuticals to test these new combinations in our laboratory.

“These sialidase molecules derived from Palleon’s EAGLE glyco-immunology drug development platform has recent clinical proof of mechanism.”

Li Peng, chief scientific officer, Palleon, said they were are delighted to collaborate with Dr Ryan in studying the role of sialoglycans on tumour-associated stromal cells in inhibiting anti-tumour immune responses.

“Dr Ryan’s ground-breaking research highlights the therapeutic potential of targeting stromal cell sialoglycans in the tumour microenvironment as a cancer treatment approach, utilising a sialidase molecule derived from Palleon’s EAGLE glyco-immunology drug development platform that has clinical proof of mechanism.”