Promising Anti-Cancer Research at USA Health Mitchell Cancer Institute

Postdoctoral research fellow Antonio Ward, Ph.D., works in a laboratory at USA Health Mitchell Cancer Institute in Mobile, Alabama, in December 2019.

A compound discovered at USA Health Mitchell Cancer Institute in Mobile is being evaluated to see whether it can be more effective against aggressive cancers when it’s combined with immunotherapy.

Postdoctoral research fellow Dr. Antonio Ward is working with the compound, an experimental RAS inhibitor called ANC 007 against cancers driven by a RAS gene mutation.

“When there is a mutation in the RAS gene, it acts as a molecular signaling switch stuck in the ‘on’ position and can cause cancer cells to multiply and spread,” MCI explains in a news release. “RAS mutations are implicated in 32 percent of lung cancers and 30 percent of all cancers, and are associated with a poorer prognosis. No FDA-approved drug has been able to target cancer cells with mutant RAS effectively.”

ANC 007 — a compound developed at MCI — “is a good candidate to target the RAS mutation in lung cancer,” Ward said. “I want to see how effective it is in activating the immune system.”

Ward’s plan is to study whether targeting the RAS mutation in a cancer cell can also decrease the presence of the proteins on the cell’s surface that help it elude the body’s immune defenses. If the proteins were reduced, the immune system could recognize and destroy cancer cells as the invaders they are. Following that reasoning, Ward wants to add immunotherapy, “a cancer treatment that revs up T cells, to take the fight to the next level, creating a one-two punch against cancer.”

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“If we combine ANC 007 with immunotherapy, we can get an even greater effect,” he says.

The goal, he says, is “to be another step closer to a RAS inhibitor that could be used in patients one day.”

Ward’s research is being funded by the National Institutes of Health in conjunction with NIH-funded drug discovery research led by MCI pharmacology professor Dr. Gary A. Piazza.

ANC 007 and related analogs are being developed by Anchiano Therapeutics, a biopharmaceutical company based in Massachusetts and Israel and dedicated to novel targeted cancer therapies.

Since its current facilities opened in 2008, Mitchell Cancer Institute has combined patient care and research under one roof, a pairing designed to give hope to patients and incentive to researchers.

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