Researchers from the University of Texas at Austin have studied a new drug that could enhance the body’s ability to fight cancer.

The researchers published their findings in Cancer Cell on September 28.

Cancer remains among the most prevalent diseases nationwide. One local 28-year-old woman recently shared her battle with both brain and breast cancer, having discovered a malignant tumor in her brain in 2021 and another growth in her breast in June of this year, as previously reported by The Dallas Express.

The researchers tested a new drug, PEG-MTAP, on mice with different types of cancers, such as leukemia, melanoma, and bladder and colon cancer. Upon administering the drug, scientists observed that it disrupted the growth of malignant tumors, enhanced immunotherapy measures, and prolonged the life of test subjects by targeting the deletion of a certain DNA segment.

“What was curious was that a nearby gene called MTAP is almost always lost at the same time as CDKN2A, which early on was described as a loss of an ‘innocent bystander’ gene,” said Dr. Everett Stone, lead author of the study, according to Medical News Today.

“In other words, the function of MTAP did not initially appear to have a role that would help promote cancer growth. Instead, we discovered that the loss of MTAP causes the cancer cell to release a potent immune cell inhibitor (MTA) into its environment and thus keep anti-tumor immune cells from eradicating malignant cells,” Stone concluded.

The scientists intend to keep advancing their research to potential human trials.

“One potential implication for patients is that if their cancer has lost the MTAP gene, certain immunotherapies may not be as effective, and for the time being, conventional chemotherapies may be more effective,” Stone told Medical News Today. “From a public health perspective, getting the new drug (PEG-MTAP) into the clinic has the potential to provide a much-needed life-extending therapy that can boost the immune system’s ability to take control of the cancer.”

Dr. Wael Harb, a hematologist and medical oncologist at Memorial Care Cancer Institute at Orange Coast Medical Center, said the new drug provides “early but promising evidence” that targeted therapies could enhance cancer immunotherapy’s benefits.

“However, more research is still needed to validate these findings and determine if modulating MTA levels is a viable therapeutic strategy,” said Harb, per Medical News Today. “Phase I/II clinical trials will be an important next step to evaluate safety and preliminary efficacy of this approach.”