Australian researchers have developed a new drug to treat an aggressive form of breast cancer that works by starving the cancer cells of nutrients to stop them from multiplying.
If successful in the lab, clinical trials could start within the next few years, offering hope to women diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC).
TNBC accounts for around 15 per cent of all breast cancer cases and typically has poorer survival outcomes.
The current standard therapy is chemotherapy, but there are no targeted therapies for patients when chemotherapy fails.
Centenary Institute’s Associate Professor Jeff Holst says the drug they have developed targets a nutrient called glutamine after they discovered it helped cancer cells to outgrow normal cells and survive.
“One specific nutrient, glutamine, jumped out at us in the process – and that’s how we found that unlike healthy cells, TNBC cells use glutamine for energy,” Professor Holst explained.
“We then looked at the pumps that bring nutrients into the cells. In TNBC, one of the pumps enables it to bring in more glutamine, which helps the cancer cells outgrow normal cells and survive.”
He said the team hopes their new drug can block the pump, so as to starve cancer cells.
“In the lab context, we have already seen this work, now we need to test it further,” Professor Holst said, adding the way the drug works suggests it would also have fewer side effects.
“This new drug should also be less toxic to normal cells that do not rely on these nutrient pumps for their survival, and therefore we hope the drug will have fewer side effects than conventional chemotherapies,” he said.
The next step of the study, funded by Cancer Council NSW, is to test the drug on cancer cells from human tissue collected from women with TNBC.
At the end of the three-year project, the team hopes to start clinical trials in TNBC patients.
There’s also the potential for the drug to be used for other types of cancer such as prostate and melanoma, Professor Holst said.