Proenzyme therapy of cancer

Anticancer Res. Mar-Apr 2005;25(2A):1157-77.


Proteases and their inhibitors have long been investigated in numerous tumor systems, and at the tumor growing front, their balance has been universally found to be shifted towards higher proteolytic activities. However, out of many promising serine and metalloproteinase inhibitors, none are included in cancer treatment regimens at present. The current search for active antiproteolytic compounds is in contrast to the classical approach developed by John Beard, who suggested treating advanced cancer by fresh pancreatic extracts whose antitumor activity was based on their proteolytic potential. We followed John Beard's recommendations by using purified pancreatic proenzymes/enzymes, trypsinogen/trypsin (TG/TR), chymotrypsinogen/chymotrypsin (CG/CH) and amylase (AM). The mixture of these enzymatic activities produces potent antimetastatic and antitumor effects in cellular, animal and human systems. The treatment of cultured tumor cells with TR and CH at nanomolar [corrected] concentrations, comparable to those achieved in the blood of the patients, causes complete arrest of the directional movement of metastatic cells. Conversely, the same treatment of normal cells results in enhanced motility and an accelerated closure of the gap created in cell monolayers. Further, treatment of cells with serine proteases results in the formation of cellular 3-dimensional structures such as lamellae, cell streams and aggregates. In some cell types, the aggregates are compacted via cadherin-based cell-cell communication systems and form compact spheroids. In the highly metastatic cells with lower cadherin expression, the ability to form spheroids also diminishes. Tumor cells unable to form spheroids when treated with proteases are subject to elimination by apoptosis. In contrast, a large proportion of cells that form spheroids remain viable, although they are metabolically suppressed. Protease-treated tumor cells contain a disrupted actin cytoskeleton and exhibit a loss of front-to-back polarity. We hypothesize that the provision of zymogens, rather than the enzymes, was of crucial importance to the clinical effectiveness in the human trials conducted by Beard and his co-workers. The precursor nature of the active enzymes may offer protection against numerous serpins present in the tissues and blood. Experimental evidence supports the assertion that the conversion from proenzyme to enzyme occurs selectively on the surface of the tumor cells, but not on normal cells. We believe that this selectivity of activation is responsible for the antitumor/antimetastatic effect of proenzyme therapy and low toxicity to normal cells or tumor host. Elevated levels of endostatin and angiostatin appear in the blood of TG/CG/AM-treated tumor-bearing mice, but not in tumor mice treated with the vehicle alone or in proenzyme-treated tumor-free mice. These findings support the conclusion that proteolysis is the active mechanism of the proenzyme treatment. Future studies will focus on the molecular mechanisms of the proenzyme therapy including the identification of molecular target(s) on the tumor cells. In conclusion, we have discovered that proenzyme therapy, mandated first by John Beard nearly one hundred years ago, shows remarkable selective effects that result in growth inhibition of tumor cells with metastatic potential.

MeSH terms

  • Actin Cytoskeleton / drug effects
  • Actin Cytoskeleton / enzymology
  • Adherens Junctions / drug effects
  • Adherens Junctions / enzymology
  • Amylases / pharmacology*
  • Angiostatins / blood
  • Animals
  • Cattle
  • Cell Count
  • Cell Growth Processes / drug effects
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Movement / drug effects
  • Chymotrypsin / pharmacology*
  • Chymotrypsinogen / pharmacology*
  • Dogs
  • Endostatins / blood
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Melanoma, Experimental / drug therapy
  • Melanoma, Experimental / enzymology
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Neoplasms / blood
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Neoplasms / enzymology
  • Neoplasms / pathology
  • Rats
  • Spheroids, Cellular
  • Tight Junctions / drug effects
  • Tight Junctions / enzymology
  • Trypsin / pharmacology*
  • Trypsinogen / pharmacology*


  • Endostatins
  • Angiostatins
  • Trypsinogen
  • Chymotrypsinogen
  • Amylases
  • Chymotrypsin
  • Trypsin