Botox-encoded mRNA therapy that makes tumors kill themselves

Chemotherapy has long been the standard cancer treatment, but now is the time to look for a better, safer, and more effective option.
Rupendra Brahambhatt
3d rendered image of cancer cell
3d rendered image of cancer cell


The most prevalent cancer treatment is chemotherapy, but a significant drawback of this approach is that it targets both cancer and healthy body cells. This is also why patients who undergo chemo experience numerous side effects ranging from hair fall to fatigue and anemia.

A team of scientists at Israel’s Tel Aviv University (TAU)  has discovered a better alternative to chemotherapy. They figured out a way to selectively kill cancer cells in the human body using bacterial toxin (Botox) and mRNA molecules. 

They injected toxin mRNA molecules directly into skin cancer tumor cells of animal models, a feat that’s never been achieved before. Surprisingly, this treatment worked.

“Our idea was to deliver safe mRNA molecules encoded for a bacterial toxin directly to the cancer cells – inducing these cells to actually produce the toxic protein that would later kill them. It’s like placing a Trojan horse inside the cancer cell,” Dan Peer, one of the study authors and Vice President of TAU’s research and development division, told World Israel News.

How does the toxin mRNA treatment work?

Previous studies suggest that Botox or botulin toxin can make cancer patients more responsive to certain cancer therapies, including chemo. It’s generally safe for human use and can potentially reduce the growth and multiplication of cancer tumors. 

Skin cancer experts report that when scientists used Botox with chemo together, it improved the survival rate of test subjects by 35 percent. This anti-cancer potential of the toxin inspired the TAU team to perform an exciting experiment. 

They extracted Botox from pseudomonas bacteria and encoded it into mRNA molecules. Next, they packaged the molecules inside lipid nanoparticles and injected them directly into tumor cells inside animal models, a feat that has never been achieved. 

The test subjects had melanoma, a type of skin cancer. The mRNA reprogrammed the cancer tumors, producing toxin proteins that eventually killed them. Interestingly, a similar approach was also used to develop mRNA COVID-19 vaccines.

“With a simple injection to the tumor bed, we can cause cancer cells to ‘commit suicide’ without damaging healthy cells,” said Peer. 

This treatment worked so well that it wiped out 40 to 60 percent of cancer cells in the animal models. According to the researchers, the more exciting thing is that many other bacterial toxins could be used to prevent cancer. 

So, for example, scientists can employ another natural toxin if cancer tumors somehow resist Botox. However, no such solution exists for a patient who develops chemotherapy resistance.

“This platform may represent a new class of treatment that can address an unmet clinical need for solid tumors therapy. We hope to further investigate into this aspect and demonstrate improved therapeutic effect in more tumor models in the future.” the researchers note.