College of LAS « Illinois

Chemical Sciences

New Drug Knocks Out Multiple Enzymes in Cancer Pathway

genetic gold graphic

A team of researchers from the U.S., Europe, Taiwan, and Japan, and led by University of Illinois scientists, has engineered a new anti-cancer agent that is about 200 times more active in killing tumor cells than similar drugs used in recent clinical trials.

The new agent belongs to a class of drugs called bisphosphonates, compounds originally developed to treat osteoporosis and other bone diseases. They were recently found to also have potent anti-cancer and immune-boosting properties.

Drug developers have tried for years to design drugs to inhibit cell survival pathways in tumor cells, focusing on a protein called Ras since nearly a third of all human cancers involve a mutation in the Ras gene that disrupts cell signaling. These efforts have met with limited success.

Bisphosphonates act on other enzymes that are upstream of Ras in the cell survival pathway. Inhibiting these enzymes appears a more effective strategy for killing cancer cells.

When used in combination with hormone therapy in a recent trial, the bisphosphonate drug zoledronate significantly reduced the recurrence of breast cancer in premenopausal women with estrogen-receptor-positive breast cancer. Similar results were reported for hormone-refractory prostate cancer.

Fall 2009