Cannabinoids Could Play a Role in Destroying Cancer Cells
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Cannabinoids have been widely used in oncology for nausea, appetite stimulation, and pain reduction in patients undergoing chemotherapy, but some researchers believe that they could play a more active role in combating the disease. While cannabis hasn’t been shown to cure cancer on its own, despite the pervasiveness of anecdotal stories, scientists have found that cannabinoids have anti-cancer properties that could be helpful in drug development.
Pascal’s Immunotherapy Breakthrough
Most tumor cells are recognized by the immune system and destroyed through a process called immunosurveillance, but some malignant cells (e.g. metastatic cells) employ an immune escape strategy to subvert these processes. By avoiding detection by the immune system, these cells spread to other tissues and eventually lead to fatal cancers.
A new branch of cancer research has emerged, called immunotherapy, that’s focused on helping the immune system recognize and destroy cancerous cells. In particular, checkpoint inhibitors are a class of immunotherapy drugs designed to activate the immune system to destroy cancer cells. Commercial checkpoint inhibitors, like Opdivo®, Keytruda®, and Yervoy®, have been shown to greatly improve survival in many cancer patients and combined had over $6 billion in 2017 sales.
Pascal Biosciences announced earlier this year the discovery of certain cannabinoids that enhance the immunogenicity of tumor cells. Dr. Wilfred Jefferies, the Scientific Founder of Pascal Biosciences, and professor at the University of British Columbia, and his team screened thousands of natural products using a proprietary assay focused on discovering compounds that can increase immune recognition of tumor cells. By making these cancerous cells more susceptible to recognition by the immune system, these cannabinoids could play an important role in augmenting the activity of checkpoint inhibitors that activate the immune system to defeat cancer.
“We are very excited by this novel discovery,” said Pascal Biosciences CEO Dr. Patrick Gray. “Cannabinoids typically have good pharmacological properties, as most have low toxicity and are easily absorbed into the blood, which are great advantages for drug development. In combination with immune checkpoint inhibitors, cannabinoids may significantly improve cancer care. We look forward to soon translating our results into clinical studies.”
Moving Toward Clinical Trials
Pascal Biosciences has been making steady progress towards moving these discoveries towards clinical trials.
On June 18, the company announced that it secured a license from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to conduct research and development on cannabinoids. Health Canada also granted Dr. Jefferies’ laboratory, at the Michael Smith Laboratories, an exemption under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act for the research. Both licenses enable the company to immediately conduct advanced research and development on cannabinoids.
The company also renewed its collaboration with the University of British Columbia, which provided the proprietary assay that contributed to the discovery, and continued its financial support of Dr. Jeffries’ laboratory at the Michael Smith Laboratories. “Together we have made great progress in developing a cannabinoid for cancer,” said Dr. Jefferies. “Pascal’s continued financial support will help enable a lead product to complete preclinical efforts for treatment of patients with cancer.”