The protein is a telltale sign of not only lung-cancer cells, but also many other kinds of cancer, including that of the liver, brain, prostate, and gastrointestinal tract, says Wands. Members of a group at high risk for a particular kind of cancer should, if they have HAAH in their blood, be further screened for the cancer, says Wands.
Panacea is also developing therapeutics that target the HAAH protein. The company has licensed rights to an antibody to the protein that was developed by K. Dane Wittrup, a chemical engineer at MIT. He says that antibody targeting “works like a bull’s-eye,” interfering with the target cell’s activity or causing an immune reaction against the tumor. Wittrup says that preclinical tests have shown good results when the antibody is administered to mice with tumors overexpressing HAAH, and that the company is recruiting patients for early clinical trials. He notes that these results are particularly promising for cancers for which there are currently no good therapies, such as that of the pancreas.