Dr. Sugahara's research focuses on tumor-targeting drug delivery systems based on small pieces of proteins, called peptides. The goal is to accomplish tumor-specific drug delivery to obtain maximal anti-cancer effects with minimal side effects.
Dr. Sugahara and colleagues have discovered a novel class of peptides, tumor-penetrating peptides, which target tumor blood vessels through systemic circulation, and subsequently spread widely into the tumor tissue (1-3). The peptides deliver deep into tumor tissue drugs chemically attached to the peptides and even free drugs co-administered with the peptides, providing a simple and effective way to improve the therapeutic index of various forms of anti-neoplastic drugs, such as small chemicals, antibodies, and nanoparticle formulations.
Latest results indicate that the tumor-penetrating peptides are particularly effective in targeting fibrotic tumors, such as pancreatic cancer. The dense fibrosis prevents systemic drugs from spreading into tumor tissue and reaching tumor cells. As such, pancreatic cancer is often resistant to modern chemotherapies. Tumor-penetrating peptides significantly enhance tumor penetration of compounds even through the dense fibrosis providing a way to overcome the chemoresistance issues in pancreatic cancer treatment. An important goal of Dr. Sugahara's research is to facilitate clinical translation of the tumor-penetrating peptides by further understanding the tissue-penetration mechanism, uncovering novel biological effects, and establishing safety and efficacy of the peptides, particularly in patients with fibrotic tumors. Recently, a novel biological effect of the peptides was discovered: the peptides alone inhibit metastasis by acting as a chemorepellant for tumor cells, which would provide significant additional benefit when the peptides are used for drug delivery to tumors (4).
Other projects include the development of intraperitoneal drug delivery systems to target peritoneal carcinomatosis of various intra-abdominal neoplasms, and the discovery of novel peptides that target various pathologies of cancer based on advanced phage display methodologies (5).
Kazuki N. Sugahara