Roswell Park researchers spot versatile cancer treatment

A cancer drug appears to slap down tumor cells that become resistant to treatment, taking away their ability to live and multiply, researchers at Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, NY, have discovered.

The drug is known as FL118 and it is an analog of camptothecin, an experimental cancer drug that was previously abandoned because it was so toxic. And it is connected to other drugs through a couple of degrees of separation. Camptothecin itself has two analogues--the chemotherapy drugs topotecan and irinotecan, the latter of which has a nanoencapsulated version being developed by Merrimack Pharmaceuticals. And FL118 is structurally similar to both irinotecan and topotecan.

In preclinical animal tests, scientists found that FL118 blocked the expression of genes such as Mcl-1, XIAP and ClAP2. That's significant because those genes in chemotherapy are produced in abundance and can help cancer cells resist treatment. But by blocking the gene expression, the tumor cells died. Even better, FL118 enabled cancer cell death even when there was no p53--a gene product that helps suppress tumors--present. And the compound also successfully battled tumor cells not considered to be treatment-resistant. What's more, toxicity wasn't anywhere to be found at these treatment levels.

"Our studies show that FL118 may become a superior option for effective control of both early and late-stage cancer, with or without metastasis," lead researcher Fengzhi Li said in a statement.

That means that FL118 is a potentially versatile new cancer drug if it can hit many cancer iterations. It will be some time before human tests, and scientists must still determine what the drug's biochemical targets are. And plenty of pharmacokinetic and toxicological profile testing remains to be completed. But the scientists see some serious cancer-fighting potential here. And so do we.

Read about the research in detail in the journal PLOS ONE.

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