Long thought to be a kind of trash collection bin for cells, it turns out exosomes are instead one of the main ways cells communicate with each other.
“This makes them medically useful in a number of ways,” says Raghu Kalluri, Ph.D., chair of Cancer Biology at MD Anderson.
Kalluri has found that exosomes from healthy cells can be used to safely deliver drugs to penetrate tumor cells. Building on his discovery, Codiak plans to develop a drug to treat pancreatic cancer, using exosomes as a delivery vehicle.
“This cellular-to cellular-transfer of drugs is a potent and safe delivery system for a number of therapeutic purposes,” Kalluri says.
He’s also discovered a potential method for detecting pancreatic cancer sooner. The secret lies in fragments of DNA, RNA and proteins inside and on the surface of exosomes that are specific to cancer cells. Kalluri discovered one particular protein that has been found to detect pancreatic cancer with 100% accuracy.
Codiak plans to use this protein to develop a diagnostic test that can identify pancreatic cancer in its early stages when it’s still treatable. The disease typically is detected so late that only 6% of patients survive five years after diagnosis.
“It’s a feather in our cap and a real turning point for MD Anderson’s growing collaboration with private industry,” says Ferran Prat, Ph.D., J.D., vice president for Strategic Industry Ventures. “Our ultimate goal is to bring innovative diagnostic and therapeutic solutions to our patients. The ability to add to our arsenal of cancer-fighting tools is greatly enhanced by ventures like Codiak.”
At MD Anderson, an office to attract, maintain and grow collaborations between the institution and bioscience and pharmaceutical companies was created in 2013.
Strategic Industry Ventures, headed by Ferran Prat, Ph.D., J.D., works with outside companies to look for potential partners that will help advance new biomedical discoveries. Their goal? Get treatments to patients faster.