Infectious Bacteria May Hold Cure for Untreatable Cancer

June 03, 2024

Roger Laine


The bacteria that cause strep throat and hospital-acquired infections could play a role in treating inoperable tumors that resist radiation and chemotherapy.

LSU Biological Sciences Professor Roger Laine is working on a cancer treatment involving two polysaccharides, or carbohydrates: CM101, which is isolated from streptococci bacteria, and PS1, which is isolated from Serratia marcescens bacteria.

“With CM101 or PS1, it’s possible to treat the tumor at the original site and any secondary tumors that form in different parts of a patient’s body,” Laine said. “CM101 and PS1 do not target the tumor itself, but the host capillaries the tumor attracts for growth. So, the tumors don’t develop a resistance to the treatment, which frequently occurs with drugs.”

CM101 attaches to a receptor only found in tumor capillaries. The polysaccharide’s presence triggers a cytokine storm, or an exaggerated immune response from the white blood cells that are the body’s front line of defense. The white blood cells attack CM101 or PS1 and rupture the capillaries that feed the tumors.

“It works on any solid tumor, and there are minimal side effects, unlike chemotherapy or radiation,” Laine said. “Patients don’t lose their hair or suffer from nausea.”

PS1 had identical effects in tests on mice, Laine said. It’s likely PS1 attaches to the same receptor and ruptures tumor capillaries in the same way as CM101, but more research is needed to determine that.

The potential implications of Laine’s research are profound. More than 10 million people worldwide die of cancer every year, 600,000 of them in the United States.

“PS1 offers hope for patients, and their families, battling advanced stages of cancer,” said Robert Twilley, LSU vice president of research and economic development. “One of the top priorities of LSU’s Scholarship First Agenda is ensuring that Louisiana residents have access to premier cancer care and research. “Dr. Laine’s work is a great example of how our faculty and expertise can address a major health issue.”

Laine has been working to harness bacterial polysaccharides’ potential for nearly a decade. But using infectious bacteria and their secretions to create cancer-fighting infections – the earliest form of immunotherapy – began in the 1890s with Dr. William B. Coley. Coley treated around 1,000 cancer patients with varying degrees of success. Unfortunately, neither he nor any of his supporters were able to explain why the treatment worked … or why it didn’t. Although a 1945 study showed that Coley’s anti-cancer bacteria treatments cured 60 percent of 312 people with inoperable cancer, the therapy fell out of favor. In 1962, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration restricted using the bacteria as a cancer treatment.

Fast forward to the late 1990s.

Technological advances helped Vanderbilt University biochemist Carl G. Hellerqvist figure out why a polysaccharide was effective against cancer. Hellerqvist successfully tested CM101, isolated from Group B Streptococcus, on mice. He also showed the treatment is safe for people in a published Phase 1 clinical trial and patented CM101. But his startup failed before Hellerqvist could further advance his research.

Laine licensed the CM101 polysaccharide from Vanderbilt nine years ago through his own startup, TumorEnd. But Hellerqvist’s patents and the protections they provided for Laine’s work have since expired. Laine is currently mapping the molecular structure of PS1 and CM101 in an effort to establish new intellectual property and hopes to submit new patents for both polysaccharides. He has already filed a provisional patent to protect his PS1 research, with help from the LSU Office of Innovation & Technology (ITC).

“One of the ways our office advances innovation is by helping faculty safeguard their discoveries. Partnering with our faculty to unlock the potential of anticancer polysaccharides benefits the public and strengthens the economy,” said Daniel Felch, LSU ITC senior commercialization officer.

Next, Laine hopes to draw the attention of investors and drugmakers and the funding needed for further human studies of PS1.

About LSU’s Office of Innovation & Technology Commercialization

LSU’s Office of Innovation & Technology Commercialization (ITC) protects and commercializes LSU’s intellectual property. The office focuses on transferring early-stage inventions and works into the marketplace for the greater benefit of society. ITC also handles federal invention reporting, which allows LSU to receive hundreds of millions of dollars each year in federally funded research, and processes confidentiality agreements, material transfer agreements, and other agreements related to intellectual property.


About LSU Office of Innovation & Ecosystem Development

LSU Innovation unites the university’s innovation and commercialization resources under one office, maximizing LSU's impact on the intellectual, economic, and social development of Louisiana and beyond. LSU Innovation focuses on establishing, developing, and growing technology-based startup companies. LSU Innovation oversees LSU Innovation Park, a 200-acre business incubator that fosters early-stage tech companies, and the Office of Innovation & Technology Commercialization, which streamlines the process of evaluating, protecting, and licensing intellectual property created by LSU researchers. LSU Innovation serves as the host organization for the Louisiana Small Business Development Center (SBDC) Network which oversees all SBDC services across the state as well as the LSU SBDC, which provides free consulting services to small businesses across the state. LSU Innovation helps Louisiana technology companies apply for seed funding through the federal Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer grant programs. LSU Innovation educates faculty, students, and the community on entrepreneurial principles through the National Science Foundation’s Innovation Corps (I-Corps) program which trains innovators to consider the market opportunities for pressing scientific questions, leading to increased funding state and federal grant programs as well as potential industry partners and licensees.