Pancreatic cancer, which has a five-year survival rate of just 10 percent, is so lethal in part because it’s difficult for conventional drugs to penetrate the dense fibrotic stroma — a thick physical barrier that protects the tumor and helps it grow. The stroma is formed by cancer-associated fibroblasts, cells that produce collagen and other fibrous tissue and are mobilized into service by the tumor.
ProDa Biotech’s drug ProAgio targets the cell surface receptor integrin αVβ₃, which is expressed on cancer-associated fibroblasts and angiogenic endothelial cells. The drug is unique in that it simultaneously and specifically targets only cancer-associated fibroblasts — a subclass of the cells that is actively engaged in supporting cancer — rather than inactive fibroblasts and tumor angiogenic vessels. This reduces side effects of the drug and increases its effectiveness. Recent studies show that ProAgio is effective at treating pancreatic cancer and prolonging survival in mice, and that it is also effective against triple-negative breast cancer, a fast-growing and hard-to-treat type of breast cancer that carries a poor prognosis.