An experimental drug that tackles melanomas could potentially offer a lifeline for patients when initial rounds of treatment fail.
The drug, Pevonedistat, which is being developed by Millennium pharmaceutical, works in a different way to other cancer-treating drugs.
“The drug is very effective on all melanomas, including those for which an effective therapeutic is lacking,” said lead author Professor Tarek Abbas.
“We actually show this drug can work on melanoma that resisted treatment, which is a major challenge in melanoma therapy.”
Instead of tackling the cancerous cells directly, it targets cellular proteins which the cancer cells rely on to replicate with speed and deadly effect.
Scientists are not yet certain how the drug kills off the cancer cells, but initial trials show that malignant melanomas require the protein-producing gene CDT2.
Abbas described the cancer as “addicted” to the CDT2 gene, and without the proteins it produces the cancerous cells begin to fall apart.
Abbas said: “We think that this is what lets the cancer cells cope with the amount of replication they must undergo.
“They divide in uncontrolled fashion, and those cells that divide faster and more frequently are under tremendous replication stress, so these cancer cells needed to be able to develop a way to cope with that.”
By denying the cancerous growth this vital ingredient, scientists have been able to show “significant promise” in halting the growth of melanomas that have resisted traditional forms of treatment.
The experimental drug could stop melanoma and potentially other cancers such as brain, liver and breast – where high levels of the protein are also found.
The drug is still being trialled and will require approval by governing bodies before it could be rolled out to patients, but should this happen Abbas is confident it could be a good second-line therapy for those patients when initial treatment fails.
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