In what is a significant step forward in the field, University researchers have uncovered two potential ways to treat multiple types of cancer.

Researchers at the University’s Comprehensive Cancer Center created a new drug that has the potential to treat several kinds of cancer and have also developed new drug compounds that have the capacity to shrink multiple types of cancerous tumors.

The first drug is called AT-406 and works to inhibit proteins that prevent normal cell death in tumors by facilitating natural decay of harmful tissue without damaging the surrounding healthy cells, Shaomeng Wang, the lead author of the study said. In animal trials, the drug has proven to reverse the blocking of apoptosis, or the way in which regular cells die, which occurs when cancerous cells are present. Though only treated on animals thus far, the drug also shows promise for treating cancer in humans, Wang said.

Wang, who is also the director of the Cancer Drug Discovery Program at the Comprehensive Cancer Center, has been working on developing the drug and drug compounds since 2003.

Wang presented his and his colleagues’ findings at the 102nd annual meeting of the America Association for Cancer Research last week. Ascenta Therapeutics — a biopharmaceutical company working to create new medicines to stop cancer — already has exclusive licensing rights to the drug and started phase one of clinical trials on humans last year, according to a University press release issued last month.

The focus of the human trials is to determine the toxicity of the drug, which is taken orally rather than intravenously like chemotherapy treatments, Wang said. While the research team has come a long way, it has faced challenges to get to this point, he said.

“With this type of project there are many, many hurdles to overcome before you can get to clinical trials,” Wang said.

Wang and his colleagues started formulating the second compound in the summer of 2004. He said these types of studies usually take a long time to develop before being cleared for human clinical trials, which he anticipates will happen for the compound by early next year.

“One thing about drug development is that it is a very lengthy and costly process,” Wang said.

While the drug compound may prove effective in treating several different cancers, Wang said treatment results could vary depending on the type of cancer being treated.

Tests of the drug compound conducted on mice show the compounds have promising tumor-shrinking abilities with few side effects, according to an April 6 University press release. The drug compound works by activating a protein that kills cancer cells.

Nicole Fawcett, a spokeswoman for the University’s Comprehensive Cancer Center, said most drugs available currently target only specific types of cancer. The drug developed by researchers at the center is unusual as it involves treating a broad range of cancers, she said.

The newly discovered treatment will likely be replicable in human cases, Wang said.

According to the study, the compound displays the ability to eradicate entire tumors. Additionally, unlike many current drug therapies on the market, including chemotherapy, the compound caused little to no harm to the mice.

The researchers have also identified markers in tumors that indicate which sites the compound will be most effective in treating. These markers will help physicians determine which patients would benefit most from the treatment, according to the press release.

While no human trials of the drug compounds are underway, University researchers are working with Ascenta Therapeutics to further test the compounds before human clinical trials can begin.

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