Smart bomb destroys solid cancers and ignores healthy tissue

Smart bomb destroys solid cancers and ignores healthy tissue

ICT2588 is a compound that can probably destroy all forms of solid tumors while leaving healthy tissue unharmed, researchers from the University of Bradford, England, have explained. Professor Laurence Patterson, head of the research team, said the "SMART bomb" could be used in human trials within the next two years, perhaps even in just 18 months' time.

ICT2588 is derived from the autumn crocus. Scientists say that it only becomes active when in contact with an enzyme released by a cancerous tumor, at which point it detonates. While circulating in the bloodstream, the compound remains inactive, ignoring healthy tissue until it comes across solid cancers.

Prof. Patterson said the experimental drug should be able to effectively target all forms of solid tumors.

In animal experiments, ICT2588 was effective in destroying breast, bowel, lung and prostate cancer tumors in mice. The researchers were surprised to find that over half of the mice went into total remission after just one injection, while among the rest of them the tumor growth slowed considerably.

Tumors use an enzyme - MMT1 - to invade surrounding tissue. ICT2588 is activated when in contact with this enzyme, and prevents the formation of new blood vessels that supply vital oxygen and nutrients for the tumor's growth and survival - without the blood vessels, the tumor literally dies of starvation.

Professor Laurence Patterson said:

"What we've designed is, effectively, a 'smart bomb' that can be targeted directly at any solid tumor to kill it without appearing to harm healthy tissue."

The team says it is negotiating with a sponsor for £3 million required for further research that can take it to human trials. The human study is planned to take place at St. James' University Hospital, Leeds.

ICT2588 is a vascular disrupting agent - it stops the formation of new blood vessels that feed tumors. The compound is based on colchicine. Colchicine, a toxic natural product, is a medication that has been used for gout for many centuries. It is extracted from plants of the genus Colchicum, which includes Colchicum autumnale, known as autumn crocus (meadow saffron). Originally, colchicine was used for rheumatic pain, particularly gout - it is still used for that indication today, even though there are issues with dosages and toxicity. Its usage dates back to ancient Greece and Egypt.

Previous attempts to use colchicine for cancer therapy were unsuccessful because the compound is very toxic.

ICT2588 belongs to the same medicine family as Paclitaxel, a mitotic inhibitor used in cancer chemotherapy. Paclitaxel comes from the bark of the Pacific yew tree Taxus brevifolia. The drug is used to treat lung, breast, ovarian, head and neck cancers, and advanced forms of Kaposi's sarcoma.

The scientists at Bradford University found a way of making ICT2588 non-toxic until it came into contact with MMT1, the protein released by tumors. MMP1 is a protease enzyme that the tumor releases to carve a path through surrounding tissue, where it can develop new blood vessels.

Professor Patterson said:

"Our novel delivery method uses the presence of this active MMP to activate the drug, which attacks and breaks down cancer blood vessels, destroying the tumor's lifeline."

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Section Issues On Medicine: Disease