Northern Ireland scientists have developed a new treatment for cancer which could dramatically improve the outcome for patients around the world.
Researchers from the School of Pharmacy at Queen’s University Belfast and Almac Discovery Ltd have developed a drug which prevents the growth of new blood vessels in tumours, starving them of oxygen and nutrients and stopping them from becoming any bigger.
While targeting tumour blood vessels is not a new concept, the drug developed by the Northern Ireland team uses an entirely different pathway and it is hoped it could therefore be used in treating tumours which do not respond to current available therapies.
Professor Tracy Robson from the School of Pharmacy at Queen’s, said: “Essentially this could increase the available treatment options for clinicians.
“We would intend this drug to be used in conjunction with radiotherapy or chemotherapy and hopefully improve the outcome for the patient.
“By understanding the anti-angiogenic potential of the natural protein, FKBPL, we have been able to develop small peptide-based drugs that could be delivered to prevent tumour growth by cutting off their blood supply.
“This is highly effective in models of prostate and breast cancer.
“However, we believe the drug could be used in any solid tumours, so that would discount blood cancers and leukaemia.”
The development represents a massive breakthrough for scientists and work is now under way to begin testing the drug on patients.
She added: “I isolated the gene in the treatment about 10 years ago and we have been working on this since then.
“It is very exciting to be involved in this project.
“We are now bringing this to the clinical trial stage. It isn’t something you achieve very often.”
While it can take over 10 years for clinical trials to be completed so a drug can be introduced as a treatment, Professor Robson is optimistic the work can be carried out quicker.
Dr Stephen Barr, President and Managing Director of Almac Discovery, said: “This is a first class example of a collaboration between a university and industry to produce cancer therapy that has a real chance of helping patients.”
Anti-angiogenic therapies are well established for the treatment of cancer, but current therapies are all based on disrupting the activity of growth factors. The work from this collaboration may provide a first-in-class therapy that targets tumour angiogenesis by an entirely different pathway to those agents currently on the market.