Pfizer is using the research developed by a team we supported

Gabriel Abril-Rodriguez, PhD, working at UCLA with the eminent Dr. Ribas, is giving us a fantastic update about his work. This has a special meaning to us because it is one of the main projects we have funded with the Alan Ghitis Association, and we are thrilled to see it evolve in the right direction. 

In the scientific research world, recognition by peers is key because it means your discoveries are valid, as they can be reproduced, or validated by another lab or another expert. When a medical discovery is recognized by peers, it gets closer to being used directly for patients. In the case of Gabriel Abril-Rodriguez’s work on cancer immunotherapy, it means getting one step further to releasing a drug that could help patients overcome cancer. 

This is of course a very exciting time, but the work is not over yet. More funds are needed to validate even further their discovery, so it can be tested on patients and then broadly released.

Gabriel is telling us a bit more about the actual work he has been conducting, and what it means that his work has been picked up by Big Pharma, including Pfizer :

“Cancer immunotherapy, and specifically checkpoint blockade, has completely changed how we treat tumors. In short, this type of therapy uses our own immune system to detect and fight the cancer. Although cancer cells have found ways to “avoid and hide” from our immune system, these therapies are aimed to let them do their job.

We started this project a while ago, with the key help and support from the Alan Ghitis Association. The main question we had in our minds was: “why some melanoma patients do not respond to the checkpoint blockade immunotherapy?”. “

Here are the 5 steps they took to try and answer this question:

  1. They studied patients that did not respond to treatment
  2. They found that those patients did not have T cells (important type of cells of our immune system) in the tumor
  3. They discovered that a specific protein, named PAK4, was overexpressed in these tumors
  4. They investigated whether removing PAK4 from cancer cells would help to bring these T cells into the tumor to make the patient respond to immunotherapy
  5. They used in vivo mice models to test this, and found that removing PAK4 from cancer cells, did increase T cell infiltration and made them more responsive to immunotherapy

Gabriel adds:“ This was a key finding, as we unveiled a previously unknown mechanism of resistance to immunotherapy and provided a novel therapeutic strategy. However, the road to the clinics (this is, treating a patient) is very long. Currently, we are making progress in understanding the biology behind this mechanism and several pharmaceuticals, such as Pfizer, are trying to develop novel PAK4 inhibitors, taking our research as a base for their work. “

The more we understand how PAK4 inhibition works, the easier it is to translate this science into a new drug that helps patients with cancer. We hope you are as thrilled as we are about this fantastic progress. If you want to help the team get closer to releasing a drug that works, consider donating to the project.