New drugs put cancers to sleep – permanently

CONFIDENT: Associate Professor Tim Thomas and Associate Professor Anne Voss from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute with Professor Jonathan Baell from the Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences.
CONFIDENT: Associate Professor Tim Thomas and Associate Professor Anne Voss from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute with Professor Jonathan Baell from the Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences.

In what they describe as exciting news, Melbourne scientists have discovered a new type of anti-cancer drug that can put cancer cells into a permanent sleep, avoiding the harmful side-effects caused by therapies like chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

The drug, which targets the proteins KAT6A and KAT6B, has already shown great promise in halting cancer progression in models of blood and liver cancers, as well as in delaying cancer relapse.

One of the researchers, Tim Thomas, said the new class of drugs, which had already shown great promise in pre-clinical testing, was the first to target and inhibit the proteins. Both are known to play an important role in driving cancer.

“Early on, we discovered that genetically depleting KAT6A quadrupled the life expectancy in animal models of blood cancers called lymphoma,” Associate Professor Thomas said.

“We are extremely excited about the potential that [the compounds] hold as an entirely new weapon for fighting cancer.”

The downside to chemotherapy and radiotherapy is that while they cause cancer cells to die, they damage healthy cells as well. This can lead to side effects such as nausea, fatigue, hair loss and susceptibility to infection.

“Rather than causing potentially dangerous DNA damage, as chemotherapy and radiotherapy do, this new class of anti-cancer drugs simply puts cancer cells into a permanent sleep,” said co-researcher Professor Anne Voss.

The lead researchers are  Associate Professor Thomas and Professor Anne Voss, from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute; Professor Jonathan Baell from the Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences; and Dr Brendon Monahan from Cancers Therapeutics CRC.

Teams are now working on developing the compound into a drug appropriate for human trials. 

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