Main Menu

Promising New Anti-Cancer Drug Targets Malignant Melanoma Protein



Thursday 1 December 2005


Research published today by scientists from The Institute of Cancer Research shows that a protein found to be damaged and therefore overactive in 70% of cases of malignant melanoma - the most deadly form of skin cancer - can be targeted by the promising new anti-cancer drug 17AAG.

More than 7,000 people are diagnosed with malignant melanoma each year in the UK and approximately 1,700 people die each year from the disease.  Malignant melanoma develops in specific cells in the outer layer of the skin that produce melanin, the pigment responsible for skin colour.

The study published in Cancer Research* shows that the B-RAF protein, which is produced from the B-RAF gene, requires activation by the crucial cellular protein HSP90.

Experiments in human cancer cells showed that 17AAG, one of a class of promising new anti-cancer drugs known as HSP90 inhibitors, prevents B-RAF from binding to HSP90 and, as a result, causes breakdown of the B-RAF protein. They have also shown that the overactive B-RAF protein is more sensitive to deterioration than the normal version.

This work is a collaboration between Cancer Research UK funded scientists Dr Richard Marais, Professor Caroline Springer and Professor Paul Workman.

“These early results are very promising,” said Dr Richard Marais of the Cancer Research UK Centre for Cell and Molecular Biology at The Institute of Cancer Research. “The B-RAF gene is damaged and overactive in 70% of malignant melanomas and 7% of cancers overall, making it an ideal target for treatment. Although these results are still preliminary, they are extremely encouraging because we can now target damaged B-RAF in melanoma patients.  Thus it has taken just over three years for us to go from showing that overactive B-RAF is an underlying cause of cancer to discovering an approach to target it in the clinic.  This shows that we are making progress in the development of a treatment for the most deadly form of skin cancer.”

HSP90 inhibitors have the potential to target a range of other cancers including those of the breast, prostate, bowel, kidney and ovary, by preventing HSP90 from binding to and stabilising additional cancer-causing proteins involved in the cancer disease process. 17AAG is currently in a phase II clinical trial for malignant melanoma in the UK.

Professor Peter Rigby, Chief Executive of The Institute of Cancer Research commented: “ We are constantly looking for new and novel ways of targeting cancer cells to improve cancer treatment, reduce side-effects and improve patient quality of life. HSP90 inhibitors, such as 17AAG, are proving to be a very exciting set of potential anti-cancer drugs. We are delighted to have taken the drug in to phase II clinical trials and look forward to getting the initial results.”

Professor John Toy, Cancer Research UK’s Medical Director, said: “These results are encouraging but much more work is needed to assess the drug’s effect in patients.  However, this drug is proving to be particularly exciting as it targets so many different features of cancer’s machinery, which should make it much more difficult for tumours to develop resistance to treatment.”


*Volume 65, issue 23


- ends -


For further information or to arrange interviews please contact:

Nadia Ramsey

The Institute of Cancer Research

Tel: 020 7153 5359 / 07788 427 856

Email: [email protected]


Notes to editors

The Institute of Cancer Research

  • The Institute of Cancer Research is Europe’s leading cancer research centre with expert scientists working on cutting edge research. It was founded in 1909 to carry out research into the causes of cancer and to develop new strategies for its prevention, diagnosis, treatment and care. Website at:
  • The Institute works in a unique partnership with The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust, forming the largest comprehensive cancer centre in Europe. This relationship enables close daily contact with those on the frontline in the fight against cancer - the clinicians, the carers and most importantly, the patients.
  • The Institute is a charity that relies on voluntary income. The Institute is one of the world’s most cost-effective major cancer research organisations with over 90p in every £ directly supporting research.

Cancer Research UK

  • Cancer Research UK's vision is to conquer cancer through world-class research.
  • The charity works alone and in partnership with others to carry out research into the biology and causes of cancer, to develop effective treatments, improve the quality of life for cancer patients, reduce the number of people getting cancer and to provide authoritative information on cancer.
  • Cancer Research UK is the world's leading independent charity dedicated to research on the causes, treatment and prevention of cancer.
  • For further information about Cancer Research UK's work or to find out how to support the charity, please call 020 7121 6699 or visit


Please note:
Unfortunately the press office are unable to answer queries from the general public. For general cancer information please refer to The Institute's cancer information page.

comments powered by Disqus
We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. By continuing to use this website, you are agreeing to our use of cookies on your device as described in our cookie policy. You can change your cookie settings at any time but parts of our site will not function correctly without them.