Researchers at Oxford University in the UK are investigating an experimental drug for treatment of people with bowel cancer in a clinical trial, raising hope on availability of a more effective remedy for the disorder sometime soon.
Researchers at the UK university’s CRUK/MRC Oxford Institute for Radiation Oncology are making the experimental drug available to patients in a clinical trial after observing a mechanism indicating potential usefulness a couple of years ago.
The drug in focus is AZD1775 by AstraZeneca. It was found to inhibit the protein WEE1, with this making it possibly beneficial to people battling with bowel cancer.
A group of researchers at the Oxford institute led by Professor Tim Humphrey had observed that a weakness of some cancer cells were mutations in the SETD2 gene of these cells. They were able to show that the cancer cells with this mutated gene can therefore be killed by using AZD1775. This was due to the latter’s ability to inhibit WEE1.
“We are excited to have discovered a new way to specifically kill bowel cancer cells with this mutation,” Humphrey said, noting that it was very encouraging seeing how the team’s work can possibly impact on treatment of patients positively.
The new research is particularly interesting in that the drug has the potential of being more effective and safer than standard treatments. It seeks to make the most of the “synthetic lethality” concept, whereby two factors work together to eliminate cancer cells.
To quickly get their discovery to this stage of clinical trial, researchers at the Institute worked in collaboration with Astra Zeneca scientists. Together they developed the translational potential of the test that would be used to detect the presence, or otherwise, of the SETD2 gene in humans, with a view to boosting targeted treatment.
Humphrey’s group paired with another Oxford group headed by Dr. Andy Ryan to develop the test for identification of the gene. They observed that about 10 percent of bowel cancers and as much as 50 percent of kidney cancers lose the marker, with this making them potentially vulnerable to AZD1775.
The trials are to be carried out at 100 hospitals across the UK. They will form part of the ongoing FOCUS4 trial in the country. The national trial is being managed by University College London’s Medical Research Council (MRC) Clinical Trials Unit.
The ongoing clinical trial is the only way by which people with bowel cancer can have access to this new drug.
In the trials, researchers will look into the usefulness of AZD1775 to patients with tumors that lack a special histone marker.
People whose bowel cancer has extended to other organs and have become inoperable are also eligible to take part in the research during the first 12 weeks of first-line intervention.
“It is remarkable to be able to take a discovery in yeast cells through to opening a clinical trial on that evidence in less than two years,” Tim said, while expressing hope that the research would bring something good to patients with bowel cancer.