Mesothelioma is known to be a resilient cancer due to its aggressive nature and its ability to fight off the very drugs meant to halt its progression. Its resistance to drugs is attributed to its apoptotic defect, which prevents the medicines from killing the cancer cells. Now, researchers report a new drug can bypass that defect and induce cell death.
Researchers from the University of Bradford, in collaboration with researchers from University of Surrey, report cancer cells should die when signals from the immune system and healthy cells tell them to do so. According to the researchers, though, cancer cells have a variety of strategies to ignore those signals and elude death.
“We already know that it’s [mesothelioma] resistant to available drugs, which is why we need entirely new treatments,” says Professor Richard Morgan, from the University of Bradford’s Institute of Cancer Therapeutics, in a March 14 press release.
The drug, known as HRX9, however, works by preventing the cancer cells from avoiding apoptosis. HRX9 targets the HOX gene family that helps to determine cell identity during development. These genes “are significantly dysregulated in malignant mesothelioma,” according to the researchers. When dysregulated, in effect the gene “switch” remains on allowing cancer cells to grow. This drug impacts that switch, and leads to the cells’ death.
“There’s a range of drugs which try to force apoptosis in different cancers, but this is the first one to work in mesothelioma, ” says Morgan.
In the study, the researchers found that human mesothelioma tumors in mice models stopped growing after just three weeks of treatment with HRX9. The tumors had “a complete loss of tumour blood vessels and widespread cancer cell death.”
“People living with mesothelioma often tell us that among their first reactions to diagnosis is despair at the lack of treatment available,” said Ian Jarrold, Head of Research at British Lung Foundation. “We hope that the progress being made in research we fund will soon provide new treatments and new hope for patients.”
The study was published in the Feb. 11 issue of BMC Journal.