In the US, cancer is the second leading cause of death after heart disease. But there's some good news! Scientists have made progress in developing a new drug to stop cancer in its tracks.
This drug, called AOH1996, has been in development for 20 years and is now being tested on humans. It's known as a 'cancer-stopping' drug because it has been found to destroy solid cancerous tumors.
The drug is named after Anna Olivia Healy, who sadly passed away at the age of nine after battling a rare childhood cancer called neuroblastoma.
Professor Linda Malkas and her team have been working tirelessly on this drug, which targets a protein called proliferating cell nuclear antigen (PCNA). This protein is found in all cancers, including the one that caused Anna's death.
PCNA, in its mutated form, helps tumors grow by aiding DNA replication and repairing cancerous cells. In the past, it was considered difficult to target with therapies.
Prof Malkas and her team, based at the City of Hope in California, a renowned cancer research and treatment organization, have found that their targeted chemotherapy appears to "annihilate" solid tumors in early research.
However, the drug still needs to undergo rigorous testing for safety and effectiveness in large-scale clinical trials before it can be widely used.
The first patient received the potentially cancer-stopping pill in October, and the phase one clinical trial is still ongoing, expected to last for at least two years. They are still recruiting patients for the trial.
Prof Malkas shared: "PCNA is like a major airline terminal hub containing multiple plane gates."
"Data suggests PCNA is uniquely altered in cancer cells, and this fact allowed us to design a drug that targeted only the form of PCNA in cancer cells."
"Our cancer-killing pill is like a snowstorm that closes a key airline hub, shutting down all flights in and out only in planes carrying cancer cells."
The professor described the findings as "promising," but emphasized that the research has only shown that AOH1996 can slow down tumor growth in lab and animal tests.
Long Gu, the main author of the study, remarked, "No-one has ever targeted PCNA as a therapeutic because it was viewed as 'undruggable', but clearly City of Hope was able to develop an investigational medicine for a challenging protein target."
The study, titled 'Small Molecule Targeting of Transcription-Replication Conflict for Selective Chemotherapy,' was published in the journal Cell Chemical Biology.
We are hopeful and keeping our fingers crossed for further progress.