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Cancer treatment progress: Two promising new drugs revealed

Scientists at The Institute of Cancer Research have this week revealed promising early results from two exciting new targeted cancer drugs.

The first drug has been designed as a potential new treatment for patients with acute myeloid leukaemia (AML), of which around 2,380 people are diagnosed each year.

Around 30 per cent of patients with AML have faults in the FLT3 gene, which are linked to more aggressive leukaemias and poor survival. While drugs that target these faults are available, the disease eventually builds resistance to treatment.

To combat this, Dr Spiros Linardopoulos and colleagues at the ICR developed a unique drug that targets AML cells in a “double hit”. The drug blocks the protein made by the faulty FLT3 gene along with another key protein called Aurora kinase both of which are involved in driving cancer growth. The drug can also destroy cells even if they develop new faults in the FLT3 gene that would make them resistant to existing inhibitors.

The combination led to complete remission in half of the mice treated with this drug, compared with only 25 per cent with an existing drug that only blocks FLT3. 

Dr Linardopoulos published details of his team’s work - which was funded by Cancer Research UK and Breakthrough Breast Cancer - in the journal Leukaemia.

Also this week, Dr Michelle Garrett and colleagues at the ICR published a paper in Clinical Cancer Research showing the promising laboratory results of a multi-target kinase inhibitor called AT13148.

They found that AT13148 operated as a kind of master switch to simultaneously block several different enzymes that control cancer cell growth and cell death.

Many kinase inhibitors have been developed that block only a single enzyme, but so far these drugs have shown only limited effectiveness. Scientists hope that switching off cell signals at multiple points could make the drug more likely to benefit patients and also delay drug resistance.

Tests showed that AT13148 was able to kill a range of cancer cell types including sarcoma, breast and prostate.

The drug was originally discovered through a collaboration between the ICR, Astex Pharmaceuticals and Cancer Research Technology, and the latest study was funded by Cancer Research UK.

Both drugs will be taken into clinical trial to assess their safety and effectiveness in patients.

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