SINGAPORE: A team of pharmacists and chemists from the National University of Singapore (NUS) has developed a new anti-cancer drug that has less toxic effects to the kidneys, the university said on Wednesday (Sep 18).
The new drug works like a "magic bullet" that is delivered directly to the mitochondria – the power generators of cells – of cancer cells, the university explained in its press release.
“Once the drug reaches the tumour, two active molecules – an anti-cancer drug and a sensitiser – are released at once, and they attack the mitochondria, leading to the death of cancer cells," NUS said.
“Such a targeted approach reduces the drug’s interactions with other tissues, minimising side effects and it is expected to lower the risk of patients developing resistance to anti-cancer drugs like cisplatin."
Cisplatin and the newer generation of platinum-based anti-cancer drugs are still used in about 40 per cent of all chemotherapy treatments. These drugs have toxic side effects, the university said, and can cause severe kidney dysfunction in patients, forcing some patients to undergo dialysis treatment.
"When designing and evaluating new cancer treatments, researchers often use cisplatin as a gold standard to compare new medicines," Associate Professor Ang Wee Han from the Department of Chemistry said.
"Cisplatin is known to kill cancer cells by damaging DNA. But cancer cells are smart, and they have ways to repair this damage and become resistant to the drug treatment. Hence, we need good alternatives that can address drug resistance and the associated side effects."
Together with Associate Professor Giorgia Pastorin and Dr Maria Babak, the team looked to develop an anti-cancer drug with better treatment outcomes to serve as an alternative to cisplatin.
When the new drug was tested in a colon cancer model, it effectively shrank the tumour until it became "impalpable", NUS added in its press release.
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Dr Babak, the first author of the study, said: "No sign of kidney inflammation was detected, unlike the use of conventional cisplatin.
"These results indicate that our invention is a viable alternative to cisplatin."
Assoc Prof Pastorin added: "While our results show great potential, we want to further challenge ourselves to improve our drug so that we can achieve complete tumour remission and tackle drug resistance.
"Accomplishing such a feat will open doors to improving cancer treatment and survival rates."
The university added that the research team is looking into adjusting the doses and frequencies of the treatment to improve the efficacy of the new drug.
They will also study combinations of different anti-cancer drugs, NUS said, adding that they are also examining ways of packaging the drugs into suitable drug delivery systems to increase efficacy, decrease side effects and tackle drug resistance among cancer patients.