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New anti-cancer drug that puts cells to ‘sleep’ works differently to chemo and radiation

2 Aug 2018 at 3:14 PM

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 anti-cancer treatments.

“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 countless lives”

 The original version of this article appeared here.  

Category: Research Articles