A multidisciplinary team of researchers from the Francis Crick Institute, with funding from Cancer Research UK, have recently released results that could advance immunotherapy treatment options for certain cancers, such as melanoma. The study, entitled, “Cyclooxygenase-Dependent Tumor Growth through Evasion of Immunity,” was published in the latest on-line edition of Cell, and the findings show that aspirin significantly increases the effects of immunotherapy treatments in an animal model.
Aspirin, the commonly used over-the-counter- drug is a COX-inhibitor, a group of molecules that stops the production of certain prostaglandins and mobilizes the body’s immune system.
In this study the investigators utilized an experimental mouse model to research the effects of aspirin as an addition to immunotherapy treatment of cancer tumors. The findings showed that in an animal model of cancer combining immunotherapies with aspirin or other COX inhibitors did effectively decrease the rate of growth of both bowel and melanoma cancerous tumors, when compared to immunotherapy alone.
In an Institute press release about the study, Dr. Professor Caetano Reis e Sousa, PhD, senior group leader and senior study author of the study, stated, “We’ve added to the growing evidence that some cancers produce PGE2 as a way of escaping the immune system. If you can take away cancer cells’ ability to make PGE2 you effectively lift this protective barrier and unleash the full power of the immune system.”
Dr. Sousa, continued, “Giving patients COX inhibitors like aspirin at the same time as immunotherapy could potentially make a huge difference to the benefit they get from treatment. It’s still early work but this could help make cancer immunotherapy even more effective, delivering life-changing results for patients.”
The sentiment was shared by Dr. Sousa’s colleague Professor Peter Johnson, Cancer Research UK’s chief clinician, who said, “PGE2 acts on many different cells in our body, and this study suggests that one of these actions is to tell our immune system to ignore cancer cells. Once you stop the cancer cells from producing it, the immune system switches back to ‘kill mode’ and attacks the tumor. This research was carried out in mice so there is still some way to go before we will see patients being given COX inhibitors as part of their treatment. But it’s an exciting finding that could offer a simple way to dramatically improve the response to treatment in a range of cancers.”