Is this breakthrough the nail in the coffin of lung cancer?
Without a doubt, there are a number of misconceptions surrounding lung cancer. The first, for example, concerns survival rates. The very words ‘lung cancer’ are often considered to mean ‘death sentence.’ But new treatments have increased survival rates and if the cancer is caught early enough, it may be curable. The second misconception is that only elderly smokers are lung cancer sufferers. And while between 80 and 85% of all cases are smoking-related, and the average age of a sufferer is 72, many younger and fitter non-smokers also fall foul of the disease.
New hope and a step nearer defeating this disease
According to the American Cancer Society’s estimates there will be over 222,500 new cases of lung cancer diagnosed in the country in 2017, and more than 155,000 will die from the disease. In the UK, according to Cancer Research UK’s statistics, there are around 40,000 new cases of lung cancer diagnosed annually, leading to 36,000 deaths.
But in the bodies of each of these lung cancer sufferers, something unique happens. Truncal neo-antigens are created early in the disease’s evolution. They are present on all cancer cells in an individual patient’s tumour. But, crucially, they are not present on the patient’s healthy cells. These truncal neo-antigens were first identified by Professor Charles Swanton working at the UCL Cancer Institute and the Francis Crick Institute with funding from Cancer Research UK and the NIHR UCLH BRC.
In theory truncal neo-antigens will rectify the problem seen with traditional therapies, not every tumour cell is targeted hence the tumour re-emerges. On this basis a new enterprise has been found.
“Our research could provide a truly personalised approach to lung cancer therapy by targeting cell surface markers that are specific to each patient and present on all cancer cells. We’re delighted to be able to bring this exciting science closer to the clinic.” (Professor Charles Swanton, UCL Cancer Institute)
Target tumours, safeguard healthy tissue
Achilles Therapeutics’ mission is to develop next-generation, patient-specific therapies that harness the immune system to destroy cancer cells. Their therapies will target the truncal (also known as clonal) tumour neo-antigens which are the unique flags to the immune system that are present on the surface of every cancer cell.
Targeting these truncal mutations provides the ideal route to direct a therapy to every cancer cell in an individual, whilst sparing healthy tissue.
Achilles Therapeutics brings together four scientific founders with world leading expertise in the understanding of cancer evolution, bioinformatics and the development of immunotherapies. The new company is headquartered in London and was launched in May 2016 with a financing round of £13.2m ($17.5m) led by Syncona with UCL Technology Fund and the Cancer Research Technology Pioneer Fund.
Therapy tailored to every patient
Professor Charles Swanton from the UCL Cancer Institute, who is the scientific founder of Achilles Therapeutics and a Group Leader at the Francis Crick Institute, commented, ‘Our research could provide a truly personalised approach to lung cancer therapy by targeting cell surface markers that are specific to each patient and present on all cancer cells. We’re delighted to be able to bring this exciting science closer to the clinic.’
Iraj Ali, Partner with Syncona LLP and Director of Achilles Therapeutics, said, ‘We believe we are working with the world leaders capable of exploiting the confluence of two of the most exciting and innovative fields in healthcare today: cancer bioinformatics and immuno-therapy.’
The company’s CEO, Chris Ashton, added, ‘Bringing all of these major players together holds great promise for non-small cell lung cancer patients.’