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Scientists discover cancer drugs without side effects

A new type of anti-cancer drugs that can put cancer cells into permanent sleep without the harmful side effects caused by conventional cancer therapies has been discovered.

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The drugs are the first of anti-cancer drugs that work by putting cancer cells to sleep by arresting tumour growth and spread without damaging the cells’ DNA, the researchers have said.

Their report which was published in the Journal of Nature reveals that the new class of drugs can provide an exciting alternative for people with cancer and has already shown great promise in halting cancer progression in models of blood and liver cancers, as well as in delaying cancer relapse.

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One of the lead researchers, Associate Prof. Tim Thomas, said the new class of drugs was the first to target KAT6A and KAT6B proteins, adding that both were known to play important roles in driving out cancer.

“Early on, we discovered that genetically depleting KAT6A quadrupled the life expectancy in animal models of blood cancers called lymphoma. Armed with the knowledge that KAT6A is an important driver of cancer, we began to look for ways of inhibiting the protein to treat cancer. The compounds had already shown great promise in pre-clinical testing,” he said.

Prof. Thomas also stated that, “This new class of anti-cancer drugs was effective in preventing cancer progression in our pre-clinical cancer models. We are extremely excited about the potential that they hold as an entirely new weapon for fighting cancer. The compound was well tolerated in our pre-clinical models and is very potent against tumour cells, while appearing not to adversely affect healthy cells.”

The researchers said there was a critical difference between this new class of drugs and standard cancer therapies.

Associate Prof. Anne Voss, from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, said rather than causing potentially dangerous DNA damage, as chemotherapy and radiotherapy do, this new class of anti-cancer drugs simply puts cancer cells into a permanent sleep.

He said, “This new class of compounds stops cancer cells, dividing by switching off their ability to trigger the start of the cell cycle. The technical term is cell senescence. The cells are not dead, but they can no longer divide and proliferate. Without this ability, the cancer cells are effectively stopped in their tracks.”

Prof. Jonathan Baell, from the Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences, said the project was particularly significant because the scientific community had coined the gene family “undruggable”.

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