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Tackling cancer

4 June 2013

Professor Chris McGuigan
Professor Chris McGuigan

A University-developed compound which could help stop cancer patients from developing resistance to certain types of cancer drugs has shown positive results in its first human trials.

ProTide NUC1031 was developed by Professor Chris McGuigan and his research team in the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences.

ProTides are important drugs in the therapy of viral infections and cancer. They represent the natural components of DNA but are modified in the lab to interfere with the construction of DNA in cancer cells, or infected cells.

Over 30 medicines are in widespread use based on this mechanism.

They include Gemcitabine, a treatment for the chemotherapy of solid tumours, including pancreas, breast and lung cancer.

However, many patients fail to respond to this drug, or develop resistance to treatment as therapy continues, and only a minority secure lasting benefit.

The mechanisms by which cancer cells show resistance are now somewhat understood, the ProTide technology has been designed to overcome these mechanisms.

Pharmaceutical company NuCana BioMed, with clinical input and support from research teams from Imperial College London and Barts Cancer Institute, have embarked on a series of tests on cancer patients in first and second stage clinical trials.

"Gemcitabine is used to treat pancreatic cancer, but is only effective in 10 per cent of patients," according to Professor McGuigan, who developed the new technology.

"Adding the compound NUC1031 to cancer cells in the laboratory we found it allowed cancer drugs to bypass the key pathways that make anti-cancer cells resistant," he adds.

In a paper to be presented to the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) the first clinical results from Imperial College London and Barts Cancer Institute will be outlined.

The trial reports the results from the first 11 patients with advanced tumours including, pancreas, breast, ovarian and colorectal. The results found that of the 11 patients in the study six now have stable disease with some being reported as stable after 24 weeks of therapy after taking ProTide NUC1031.

Hugh Griffith, Nucana's Chief Executive Officer, added: "The clinical findings strongly endorse the hypothesis that ProTides are capable of bypassing cancer cell resistance.

"This could open up a new era in cancer treatment."

Head of Oncology and Palliative Medicine, Professor Malcolm Mason, School of Medicine said: "This is an immensely encouraging report, showing evidence of anticancer activity for this compound at an early stage in its development.

"It is especially noteworthy that this has been seen in a group of patients whose cancers are particularly difficult to treat.

"More research is, of course, needed, but the results to date are very exciting."

Professor McGiugan added: "Whilst this trial is only the first stage and small in relative numbers, these initial results are extremely encouraging.

"What the data suggests is, like we found in the laboratory, adding NUC1031 helps overcome the body's resistance to the cancer drug Gemcitabine – making it far more effective in treating certain forms of cancer."