New Zealand scientists, part of a team which includes researchers at prestigious US university Stanford, today unveiled two advances in the fight against cancer.
A team around Auckland Cancer Society Research Centre (ACSRC) associate professor Michael Hay including researchers at the Maurice Wilkins Centre for Molecular Biodiversity and Stanford has designed a compound known as STF-31 that starves certain cancer cells of glucose, depriving them of energy.
The researchers also announced an anti-cancer "stealth" drug has been targeted for a clinical development agreement between US-based Proacta Incorporated and Tokyo company Yakult Honsha.
"Standard cancer therapies attack healthy tissue as well as cancer cells, causing side effects that can limit treatment," Associate Prof Hay said.
"By designing new drugs that target some of the abnormal biological processes unique to cancer cells, it may be possible to fight cancer with minimal side effects.
"Using STF-31 we have shown that it is possible to selectively inhibit the ability of certain cancer cells to take up glucose. This starves them of energy and causes them to die," he said.
Treatment with the compound did not appear to cause toxicity in normal cells and could herald a new way to selectively target cancer cells.
The research focused on renal cell carcinoma, the most common form of kidney cancer in adults.
The disease is resistant to standard chemotherapy and often requires surgical removal of the affected kidney.
Most renal cell carcinomas possess a specific mutation that makes them highly dependent on glucose.
But many other tumour types also avidly took up glucose, Associate Prof Hay said.
Another success was the advance of the "stealth" drug PR610 to the stage of clinical trials.
It belongs to a new class of hypoxia-activated pro-drugs for the treatment of cancer and selectively targets the low-oxygen (hypoxic) conditions found in many solid tumours.
Since they are inactive in normal, healthy tissues, they avoid the problem of indiscriminate toxicity associated with standard cancer treatments.