NEWS | May 21, 2019

Department of Defense grant will support novel bladder cancer treatment research


Kit Lam, professor and chair of the UC Davis Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Medicine, and a research leader at the NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, has received a $4.6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Defense to study ways to improve immunotherapy treatment in patients with locally advanced and metastatic bladder cancer.

Kit Lam Kit Lam

Using novel technology already developed in the Lam lab, researchers will load microscopic capsules or “nanocarriers” with a drug called imiquimod, which stimulates the immune system, and deliver them intravenously directly to all tumor sites. Local photo-activation of the nano-drug at one of the tumor sites, and a drug that blocks certain proteins that can inhibit the immune response, will enhance the immune response against tumors throughout the body. The study, conducted in mice, will measure safety and efficacy of the approach. Researchers hope the project leads to a first-in-human clinical trial in bladder cancer patients.

Currently, the first-line treatment for locally advanced bladder cancer is combination chemotherapy, but only 50 percent of patients respond, and almost all patients suffer severe side effects. The second-line treatment is immunotherapy, with a 20 percent response rate.

“The current project, if successful, can greatly increase the response rate, and significantly improve the clinical outcomes of patients with locally advanced and metastatic bladder cancer,” according to the investigators’ proposal.

The ultimate hope is that the approach will spare patients with locally advanced bladder cancer the current treatment, including chemotherapy followed by removal of the bladder and urinary diversion, which often leads to poor quality of life and lower survival.

“The proposed novel nano-photo-immunotherapy, if successful in bladder cancer, can be readily translated to many other cancer types including brain cancer and pancreatic cancer,” said Lam, who is also a professor in the Division of Hematology and Oncology.

Bladder cancer is the fourth most common cancer among men and tenth most common cancer among women. The disease is common in veterans, most of whom are elderly males with a history of smoking. Smoking is the single most important risk factor for the disease.

Chong-xian Pan, a professor in the Division of Hematology and Oncology, and also a staff medical oncologist at the VA Northern California Health Care System, is co-investigator on the project.