'Smart bomb' drug to target cancers
A "smart bomb" with the potential to destroy solid cancers of all kinds could be tested on patients within two years.
The drug, derived from the autumn crocus, is designed to "detonate" and become active only after reaching a target tumour.
It can circulate in the bloodstream, wiping out cancers that have spread while leaving healthy tissue unharmed.
Scientists believe the compound, currently known by the code-name ICT2588, should be effective against all forms of solid tumour.
In the laboratory it was successfully used to treat breast, bowel, lung and prostate cancers in mice. Half the animals appeared to be completely cured after just one injection of the drug, and tumour growth was slowed in every mouse tested.
The key to the drug is the way it is activated by an enzyme tumours use to invade surrounding tissue. Once active, it destroys blood vessels feeding the tumour and causes the cancer to starve to death.
Professor Laurence Patterson, who heads the research team at the University of Bradford, said: "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."
Talks are now taking place with an unnamed funder to raise the £3 million needed to bring the drug to trial and patients at St James's University Hospital in Leeds could be the first to try the treatment, possibly in the next 18 to 24 months.
The drug, known as a "vascular disrupting agent" (VDA), is based on colchicine - a highly toxic substance in the flowers, leaves and seeds of the autumn crocus. Previous attempts to employ it to fight cancer have failed because of the compound's extreme toxicity, but Prof Patterson's team found a way of rendering the drug harmless until it was exposed to a protein enzyme called MMP1 only found in tumours.
"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", said Prof Patterson, who will outline the research at the British Science Festival taking place at the University of Bradford this week.