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Title Constant challenges to develop anticancer drugs based on Korean medicine
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Writer Manager Date 2021-11-15 Hits 127

Constant challenges to develop anticancer drugs based on Korean medicine

KIOM research team headed by Dr. Jeong Hwan-seok finds an immunotherapeutic candidate in Sanguisorba root



The research team led by Dr. Jeong Hwan-seok of the Korean Medicine Application Center at the Korea Institute of Oriental Medicine (KIOM / president: Lee Jin-Yong) additionally discovered an immunotherapeutic* (immune checkpoint inhibitor) candidate based on Korean medicine from Sanguisorba root and confirmed its effect.

The research outcome was published in Frontiers in Immunology (IF=7.561), a leading international academic journal.

Immunotherapeutics: Anticancer drugs that disable cancer cells from escaping the immune system or helps immune cells to attack cancer cells better, including immune checkpoint inhibitors, cancer vaccines, immune cell therapeutics, etc.

Immune checkpoint: A mechanism in the human body that stimulates immune checkpoint protein and reduces activation of immune cells to suppress excessive immune response. Cancer cells turn this mechanism to their own advantage to escape the attacks of immune cells.

The immune therapeutics, which treat cancer by improving immune function unlike conventional anticancer drugs that attack cancer cells, are drawing attention as the next-generation anticancer drugs.

Immune checkpoint inhibitors are the most widely used immune therapeutics, and seven items in this category have been approved. However, they are still showing low response rates (two out of ten patients) and have side effects such as immune hypersensitivity, thus requiring the development of new substances to complement these weaknesses.

The discovery of the candidate substance following the approval for phase 2a clinical trial of KIOM-ICI-1 (Korean raspberry), a material based on Korean medicine whose safety has been proven, last June, is especially meaningful as the new substance is not only effective in monotherapy but also enhances the treatment effect when it is co-administered with Keytruda, a conventional immune checkpoint inhibitor used in clinical practices.

The research team carried out a study on the changes in the size of cancer cells according to drugs administered on animals with colon cancer, and found out that the Sanguisorba root extract effectively blocks the PD-1/PD-L1 fusion and inhibits the growth of tumor.

The team previously verified that KIOM-ICI-1 improves the activation of immune cells (T-cells) and suppresses the size of tumor by more than 50%. In the recent study, it was confirmed that the Sanguisorba root extract led to over 60% of tumor cell death.

Also, the extract appeared to have strong anticancer synergy effects when co-administered with Keytruda, a conventional immune checkpoint inhibitor, showing more than three times higher anticancer effect than in the case of monotherapy of each drug.

Dr. Lee Eun-ji of the Korean Medicine Application Center of KIOM, the first author of the research paper, said, “The new immunotherapeutic candidate is based on Sanguisorba root, whose safety has been proven, and it has excellent synergistic effect with the conventional immune inhibitor Keytruda. Through continued follow-up studies including drug interaction study and clinical tests, we will contribute to the improvement in public health with anticancer drugs without such side effects as hair loss and hepatotoxicity.

President Lee Jin-Yong of KIOM said, “The philosophy and benefits of the treatments in Korean medicine, which improve internal balance and maintain health by strengthening immunity, have been demonstrated once again. We will continue our role of protecting the healthy living of the public from serious diseases like cancer by developing new drugs based on herbal materials.



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