Irish Research Council Funded Collaboration has Developed Novel Therapies for the Treatment of Breast Cancer

From left - Luke Watson, Operations Manager, Orbsen Therapeutics; Dr Paul Loftus, Process Development Lead, Orbsen Therapeutics; and Dr Laura Barkley, Principal Investigator, NUI Galway.
Dec 17 2020 Posted: 14:58 GMT

Stromal Cell specialists at NUI Galway and Galway biotech, Orbsen Therapeutics have published new work which could lead to new ways of treating people with cancer.

Principal Investigator Dr Laura Barkley, a researcher at the College of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences at NUI Galway explains: “Tumour stromal cells are recently discovered and are an important component of solid tumours. Tumour stromal cells prevent the patient’s immune system from recognising and killing cancer cells and they also limit the effectiveness of many current cancer drugs including immunotherapies. Our research indicates that developing drugs that specifically target tumour stromal cells may enable current drugs to work better in patients.”

This Irish Research Council funded collaboration discovered a new marker of breast cancer tumour stromal cells called Syndecan-2. Dr Barkley and Dr Paul Loftus at Orbsen Therapeutics have developed novel peptide therapeutics to bind and target Syndecan-2 specifically. These new peptides were then tested in breast cancer models for safety and efficacy.

Dr Barkley continued: “The peptides caused immune cells to infiltrate the breast cancer, leading to a reduction in growth and notably, reduced the metastasis of the breast cancer to other organs. These studies suggest that targeting cancer specific tumour stromal cells represent a new modality in the treatment of cancer. We are very excited about the potential benefits of using tumour stromal cells-targeting drugs to improve patient outcomes in combination with current breast cancer therapies and immunotherapies.”

Professor Michael Kerin, Chair of Surgery at NUI Galway and Research Director of the National Breast Cancer Research Institute and co-author in the study, said: “This work highlights the important collaborative patient focused research that is carried out in the Lambe Institute for Translational Research. It will open avenues for treatment for patients with particular breast cancer subtypes especially triple negative and targeting the appropriate cohort will require further research.”

Professor Timothy O'Brien, Dean of the College of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences, NUI Galway, Director and Founder of Orbsen Therapeutics, and co-author in the study, highlighted: “This research program illustrates the benefits of the Irish Research Council Employment based post graduate initiative. The research applies discoveries in stem cell biology to cancer therapeutics and may lead to innovative approaches to the treatment of breast cancer.”

Dr Stephen Elliman, Chief Scientific Officer at Orbsen Therapeutics, said: “This Irish Research Council enabled research between Dr Barkley and Dr Loftus was a model of industry-academic collaboration. We’re delighted with the outcome and look forward to continuing this productive collaboration and advancing these peptides towards early safety Phase clinical one trials.”

This work was published in the International Journal of Cancer and can be accessed at


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