New drug could improve life quality, prognosis for patients with hard-to-treat cancers

SHEFFIELD, England — Certain forms of cancer are particularly hard to treat. That may soon change, however, thanks to a potentially groundbreaking new drug just created by scientists from the University of Sheffield.

The inventors say their drug could improve both life quality and expectancy for patients dealing with various forms of hard-to-treat cancer. That includes pancreatic cancerlung cancer, and relapsed breast cancer.

What separates this drug from the pack? The initial discovery that made this new drug possible occurred while researchers were examining the hormone known as adrenomedullin. That hormone is known to control blood pressure and other bodily functions, but it is also been shown to help stimulate the growth of cancer.

Via a group of novel drug molecules (adrenomedullin-2 receptor antagonists), the research team successfully blocked adrenomedullin’s ability to communicate with cancer cells. Importantly, this was achieved without sacrificing adrenomedullin’s other, beneficial bodily duties.

Jump forward in time a bit, and mouse models show that the new drug molecules have a “positive effect” on the treatment of pancreatic cancer tumors.

How scientists came about new therapy

This is not an overnight discovery. Professor Tim Skerry from the University of Sheffield’s Department of Oncology and Metabolism and his team have been working on this for the past 12 years.

“The most extraordinary part of this new therapy is the fact that nature designed the hormone adrenomedullin to have two different types of receptor – one which helps to regulate our blood pressure and the other which is involved in the way that cancer cells communicate with each other and the host cells, helping cancers to grow and spread,” he explains in a release.

“We have designed a unique piece to fit into nature’s jigsaw which will block signals from one receptor but allow the other to work as normal. In blocking the hormone’s communication with the cancer cells we are cutting off its supply to the things that it needs to thrive. This means tumors can’t grow as fast as they are starved of the resources they need and it becomes more difficult for them to spread to other areas of the body,” he adds.

Drug could add months, years to cancer patients’ lives

Mouse tumors treated with the new drug molecules grew at a slower rate, suggesting that the new drug is capable of extending patients’ life expectancies. This new drug is also quite different than older forms of cancer treatment like cytotoxic drugs and radiotherapy. Why? The new drug only targets a small collection of cells, and avoids damaging healthy cells.

“Pancreatic cancer tumors are notoriously aggressive and difficult to treat and their location makes it easy for the cancer to spread to nearby organs such as the liver and stomach. The nature of pancreatic cancers means it is hard to get current drugs into the tumor. We believe adrenomedullin-2 receptors offer advantages for pancreatic cancer patients,” professor Skerry comments.

“Over the past 30 years the diagnosis and treatment of the vast majority of cancers has evolved rapidly, helping more people survive the disease than ever before. However, advances in treating pancreatic cancer and improving patient outcomes have had little effect on life expectancy. There are still cancers that are resistant to treatment and research is needed to solve those problems,” he concludes.

In an effort to fast-track the new drug into clinical trials within the next two years, the team at Sheffield has already formed a new company called Modulus Oncology in collaboration with a group of experienced biotech entrepreneurs.

The study is published in ACS Pharmacology & Translational Science.

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