Could Bee Venom Be the Key to Treating Triple-Negative Breast Cancer?

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A study published in the journal npj Precision Oncology on Sept. 1 featured data that suggested honeybee venom can potentially destroy triple-negative breast cancer and HER2-enriched breast cancer cells.

Dr. Ciara Duffy from the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research and The University of Western Australia led the research. She and her colleagues tested the effect of venom on clinical subtypes of breast cancer, using the venom from 312 honeybees and bumblebees from Perth Western Australia, Ireland and England.

"No one had previously compared the effects of honeybee venom or melittin across all of the different subtypes of breast cancer and normal cells,” Dr. Duffy said. "We tested honeybee venom on normal breast cells, and cells from the clinical subtypes of breast cancer: hormone receptor positive, HER2-enriched, and triple-negative breast cancer.”

Dr. Duffy explained that the goal of the research was ultimately to determine if honeybee venom and its component compound, melittin, had anti-cancer properties.

"We found both honeybee venom and melittin significantly, selectively and rapidly reduced the viability of triple-negative breast cancer and HER2-enriched breast cancer cells,” said Dr. Duffy. "The venom was extremely potent."

Melittin, in particular, also had a surprising effect. Within 20 minutes, the compound was able to reduce the chemical messages of cancer cells that are necessary for growth and cell division.

"We looked at how honeybee venom and melittin affect the cancer signaling pathways, the chemical messages that are fundamental for cancer cell growth and reproduction, and we found that very quickly these signaling pathways were shut down,” said Dr. Duffy. "Melittin modulated the signaling in breast cancer cells by suppressing the activation of the receptor that is commonly overexpressed in triple-negative breast cancer, the epidermal growth factor receptor, and it suppressed the activation of HER2 which is over-expressed in HER2-enriched breast cancer.”

Western Australia's Chief Scientist Professor Peter Klinken noted that this study significantly demonstrates the potential benefits of melittin, and overall, how compounds in nature can be utilized to combat human diseases.

The researchers note that studies will be necessary to formally assess the best way to deliver melittin to patients.

This is not the only positive news that has come out of the breast cancer treatment realm as of late. Athenex also announced on Sept. 1 that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had accepted its New Drug Application for oral paclitaxel and encequidar for the treatment of metastatic breast cancer, and it has been granted Priority Review.

“We see oral paclitaxel as a potentially important alternative to IV infusions, especially during the current pandemic, as it may allow cancer patients to take the oral chemotherapy at home,” said Dr. Johnson Lau, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Athenex. “We believe the oral paclitaxel program validates our broader Orascovery platform, and we are committed to applying the technology to convert other IV chemotherapies into oral agents.”

The NDA is based on data from a Phase 3 study of oral paclitaxel for the treatment of metastatic breast cancer. The trial was randomized and controlled, and looked at the safety and efficacy of oral paclitaxel monotherapy against IV paclitaxel monotherapy. It achieved its primary endpoint, demonstrating a statistically significant improvement in overall response rate, along with a lower neuropathy, compared to IV paclitaxel.

The FDA grants Priority Review to NDAs for potential drugs that, if approved, would make significant improvements to the way patients are treated for serious conditions, such as various types of cancer.

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