An antibody to kill tumours
Sophie Lucas, a researcher at UCLouvain, received the GSK Award for her discovery of an antibody that awakens the immune response against cancer.
Sophie Lucas has been working for a long time on this molecule, which for the moment simply bears a code name, ARGX-115 or ABBV-151.
She first studied cytokines, substances synthesized by cells of the immune system that are responsible for limiting the activity of other cells. In 2004, she started looking into Tregs, important cells which regulate the immune system. Sometimes they do their job so well, the system becomes unable to fight cancer.
That's where Sophie Lucas comes in, as she managed to figure out how to block the action of Tregs! Usually, they protect us from autoimmune diseases, but when we have cancer, they turn against us by blocking immunity to tumours! We must therefore seek to prevent them from acting without destroying them.
By studying Tregs, the researcher discovered that they produce a cytokine that transmits an immunity suppressing message to other immune cells. To do this, it requires GARP, a protein. "We now have GARP inhibitors. We have developed a monoclonal antibody which prevents Tregs from transforming the latent message into an active cytokine. The antibody thus blocks the immunosuppressive action of Tregs, without simply eliminating them. "
Researchers have now succeeded in neutralising Treg cells in cancerous mice and unblocking the immune response. The tests also showed that if anti-GARP antibodies were combined with another proven immunotherapy, the tumour regressed rapidly.
A major step forward in the fight against cancer.