New cancer treatment could destroy all types of solid tumour
15 September 2011
A new cancer treatment being developed at the University of
Bradford has the potential to find and completely destroy solid tumours,
regardless of cancer type.
The drug is inactive until triggered by the heightened activity
of an enzyme that is always found in the tumour environment,
releasing a potent anti-cancer agent which destroys the tumour’s
blood vessels, causing it to starve to death. Moreover, since the
enzyme is only usually active at high levels in tumour environments,
the drug is unlikely to have any side effects on healthy tissue.
Five different types of cancer have been tested in the laboratory
so far — breast, colon, lung, sarcoma and prostate — with no adverse
effects observed. In one study, half of the mice showed complete
tumour remission after a single dose.
“What we’ve designed is, effectively, a ‘smart bomb’ that can be
targeted directly at any solid tumour to kill it without appearing
to harm healthy tissue,” says Professor Laurence Patterson, Director
of Bradford’s Institute for Cancer Therapeutics (ICT).
The enzyme that triggers the release of the active agent is one
of a family of proteases called the Matrix Metalloproteinases
(MMPs). Says Professor Patterson: “One role of this particular MMP
in cancers is to dig a path for the tumour to grow bigger and
develop new blood vessels that will help nourish the tumour. Our
novel delivery method uses the presence of this active MMP to
activate the drug which attacks and breaks down cancer blood
vessels, destroying the tumour’s lifeline.”
The research team believe that the use of MMP activity as a
trigger should also enable the new drug to treat secondary tumours
caused by the cancer spreading through the body. In addition, they
believe that the delivery mechanism could be used to deliver other
drugs directly to the tumour site.
The drug’s key active agent is based on colchicine, a natural
compound derived from the Autumn crocus — a native British flower
described in ancient herbals as a treatment for inflammation.
“Although it’s well known for having anti-cancer properties,
colchicine is not used to treat cancer because it is too toxic
against normal tissues within the body,” says ICT Commercialisation
Manager Dr Kevin Adams. “We’ve found a way to harness colchicine’s
power so that it's harmless to healthy tissue, but still toxic to
tumour blood vessels.”
The team is in discussion with a funder to take the drug through
the final stages of preclinical assessment, after which clinical
trials are planned to start at St James’s University Hospital in
Professor Laurence Patterson, ICT
Director, University of Bradford
“We have to remain cautious until we can prove the same
remarkable effects in clinical trials,” says Professor Patterson,
“but ultimately, if all goes well, we would hope to see this drug
used as part of a combination of therapies to treat and manage
Morgan Williams, Commercial Development Officer at Yorkshire
Cancer Research, said: “Yorkshire Cancer Research is proud to have
supported the Institute of Cancer Therapeutics for over a decade.
Professor Patterson is the recipient of a flagship Programme Award
from Yorkshire Cancer Research to support the discovery and
development of new anti-cancer drugs. These drugs take many years to
reach the clinic and funding for this kind of drug discovery is a
long term investment.
“Many funders have cut the support available to Institutes like
the ICT at Bradford leaving it more and more difficult to find
support, particularly in the current economic climate. Yorkshire
Cancer Research has taken a strategic decision to support work such
as this with the potential to deliver patient benefit, and believes
that people in Yorkshire will benefit from the local clinical trial
planned for this treatment at St James’ University Hospital, which
is a nationally recognised centre of excellence.”