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Humphrey Fonge and post-doctoral trainee Behlol Khan (foreground) in the lab at the Saskatchewan Centre for Cyclotron Sciences.

Colorectal cancer cells killed by ‘assassin’ antibody, USask team finds

A novel treatment for advanced colorectal cancer—using a radioactive antibody that attaches to cancer cells and kills them—is being developed by researchers at the University of Saskatchewan’s College of Medicine.

Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of death from cancer in North America and is often diagnosed at an advanced stage, after it has spread to other parts of the body. Patients with advanced colorectal cancer generally have a life expectancy of around 24 to 30 months.

A USask team of researchers led by radio-pharmacist Humphrey Fonge (Department of Medical Imaging) has created an ‘assassin’ antibody with attached radioactive molecules which cling to colorectal cancer cells and destroy them.  

“I have designed a molecule that will attach itself to colorectal cancer cells and destroy them, with little to no impact on neighbouring healthy cells,” Fonge said. “This could transform outcomes for many colorectal cancer patients including those at the advanced stages of the cancer.”

The ‘assassin’ antibody attaches itself to a specific protein which appears on colorectal cancer cells. It then kills the cancer cell.

“This is a personalized medicine approach enabling us to treat the cancer in a very pinpointed way, while sparing healthy tissue,” he said. “It is a novel radio-immunotherapy approach.”

The five-year research program has been awarded $872,100 by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR)—one of five USask health research programs awarded a total of $4.9 million by the CIHR in its fall 2018 funding competition.

Read more about this promising cancer treatment at the university's news site.

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