A new type of drug that puts cancer cells
to an eternal “sleep” without the toxic side effects of traditional treatment
has been developed by Melbourne researchers.
The discovery, the result of a decade of
work by several Victorian medical research institutes, does not kill cancer
cells as chemotherapy and radiation do, but instead stops the cells from being
able to divide and spread.
After showing it could quadruple the life
expectancy of animals with blood cancer, the researchers — led by the Walter
and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research — are now partnering with the
pharmaceutical industry to make the drug suitable for humans.
Co-lead author Associate Professor Tim
Thomas, of the Hall institute, said the anti-cancer drug was the first to
target two proteins with a high potential to cause cancer. The proteins are
mutated in acute myeloid leukaemia, which kills about half of patients within
four months of diagnosis.
Prof Thomas said the two proteins were
previously thought to be “undruggable”, following multiple unsuccessful
attempts by large drug companies. The Melbourne team screened almost 250,000
compounds searching for inhibitors of the cancer-causing process, giving them
clues to potential targets.
Over five years, Professor Jonathan Baell,
from the Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences, took those clues into
more tests and the eventual development of a drug compound that could put
cancer cells to sleep by turning off their ability to kickstart new cell growth.
“We’re harnessing the body’s defence
mechanism for preventing cells becoming malignant by stopping them from
multiplying,” Prof Thomas said. “This mechanism is used by a range of cancers,
so we hope it will have wide application.”
The findings are published on Thursday in
the journal Nature, with CSIRO, St Vincent’s Institute of Medical Research,
Monash University, University of Melbourne and Peter Mac also involved.
While it stopped cancer in its tracks, the
compound also spared healthy cells from the toxicities seen with other
“Chemotherapy and radiation work by causing
DNA damage in the cancer cells that are proliferating, but normal cells are
affected quite severely,” Prof Thomas said. “We’re hoping this approach can accurately
target the cancer and leave healthy cells alone.”
Leukaemia Foundation chief Bill Petch said
he was hopeful this research would “quickly turn into a reality to save
The original version of this article appeared here.