CD73 Research Could Lead to Cancer Drug

Bin Zhang, MD, PhD, will be working with scientists in Texas and France to develop a cancer-fighting antibody.

Bin Zhang, MD, PhD, associate professor of Medicine-Hematology/Oncology and Microbiology-Immunology, is among a group of international scientists awarded $8 million to attack cancer from multiple perspectives.

Zhang is participating in a project targeting CD73, an enzyme that is overexpressed in many different forms of the disease. Although CD73 helps produce energy in cells, it can also suppress the immune system and allow tumor cells to reproduce.

“We are going to test an antibody that blocks this cancer-related pathway and reduces its ability to suppress the immune system,” said Zhang, a member of the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center. “Our previous findings show that many tumors highly express CD73, which limits anti-tumor immune responses, and that CD73 may serve as an emerging immune target for therapy.”

Zhang will be collaborating with Tyler Curiel, MD, an immunologist at the University of Texas Health Science Center, and Christophe Caux, PhD, from the Léon Bérard Cancer Center in Lyon, France, in the European Union-sponsored effort.

The study is part of the multinational TumAdoR project, which includes teams from Germany, Switzerland, France, Finland and the United States. The ambitious four-year investigation aims to produce an antibody that blocks a specific cancer pathway and have it ready for clinical trials by the end of the funding cycle.

“The object is to develop a new drug that could effectively treat a variety of cancers,” Zhang said. “My lab will develop and validate the preclinical tumor models for testing the anti-tumor effect of a CD73-blocking antibody and help explore how it works.”

At Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Zhang’s lab focuses on studying tumor-induced immune suppressive mechanisms including CD73, and developing novel immunotherapeutic strategies to mobilize a patient’s immune system to recognize tumor cells and eliminate them.