New ‘Trojan horse’ cancer drug shows promise in trials

A “Trojan horse” drug which attacks tumour cells from within may offer new hope to cancer patients with few options left, researchers say.

The new treatment has generated promising results in people with six different cancer types including cervical, bladder, ovarian and lung, early trial results published in journal The Lancet Oncology show.

The drug – tisotumab vedotin (TV) – was tested on patients with advanced cancers which had stopped responding to standard treatments, and caused some tumours to shrink or stop growing.

The research was led by a team at the Institute of Cancer Research in London and the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust.

“What is so exciting about this treatment is that its mechanism of action is completely novel – it acts like a Trojan horse to sneak into cancer cells and kill them from the inside,” lead author Professor Johann de Bono said.

“Our early study shows that it has the potential to treat a large number of different types of cancer, and particularly some of those with very poor survival rates.

“TV has manageable side effects, and we saw some good responses in the patients in our trial, all of whom had late-stage cancer that had been heavily pre-treated with other drugs and who had run out of other options.”

Professor Johann de Bono said the treatment was like a "Trojan horse" (ICR/ PA)
Professor Johann de Bono said the treatment was like a "Trojan horse" (ICR/ PA)

The trial involved nearly 150 patients with different cancer types which were drug-resistant.

More than a quarter of patients with bladder cancer (27%) and 26.5% with cervical cancer responded to the treatment.

The tumours of 13% of people with oesophageal cancer, 13% with non-small cell lung cancer, and 7% with endometrial cancer also shrunk or stopped growing.

This response lasted for an average of 5.7 months, but up to 9.5 months in some patients, the study found.

The TV treatment is made up of a toxic drug attached to an antibody and designed to target a receptor, found in high levels on the surface of many cancer cells, called tissue factor.

When it binds to the tissue factor, the drug is able to get inside cancer cells to kill them from within.

The results mean it is now being tested in other cancer types, including bowel and pancreatic, and further trials for cervical cancer are also being carried out.

Professor Paul Workman, chief executive of the ICR, said: “We’ve seen major advances against cancer in recent decades, but many tumour types remain very difficult to treat once the cancer has begun to spread.

“We desperately need innovative treatments like this one that can attack cancers in brand new ways, and remain effective even against tumours that have become resistant to standard therapies.”