Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre specialists found that cancer cells could be selectively killed by blocking the production of ribosomes, which are essential to the growth and survival of the cells.
“What is really quite remarkable and was quite unexpected was that normal cells are not so dependent on this formation of the ribosomes,” said the co-head of Peter Mac’s Cancer Therapeutics Program, Grant McArthur.
“This is an exciting new concept to what is really a bit of a ‘Holy Grail’ in cancer treatments,” Prof McArthur told AAP.
This means the treatment would be hard on the cancer but softer on the patient, he said.
“We’re always trying to come up with new cancer drugs that will kill the cancer and leave the normal cells in the body relatively unaffected or only with minimal side-effects,” Prof McArthur said.
“There is a big push on to come up with new treatments that meet those criteria so we’re hopeful that this might be an example of that.”
Prof McArthur and Associate Professor Ross Hannan worked with Californian biotechnology company Cylene Pharmaceuticals to develop a treatment that would block the cellular process.
The drug, CX-5461, is given intravenously like chemotherapy.
But, unlike chemotherapy which damages cell DNA, the new treatment specifically targets part of the cell called the nucleolus to interrupt the production of ribosomes.
The first human trials of the therapy are scheduled at Peter Mac this year involving about 40 patients, Prof McArthur said.
Patients with blood cancers like leukaemia and lymphoma are to participate in the trial, after earlier laboratory tests showed the treatment was most successful at attacking those cancers.
However, further investigations are under way to test the therapy on other cancers.
The upcoming trial’s principal investigator, Simon Harrison, said the first trials would test the safety of the therapy.
“To offer this new trial to Victorians with incurable cancer of the blood system is fantastic, and knowing it has the potential to one day help patients across the globe is an incredibly exciting development,” Dr Harrison said.
Assoc Prof Hannan, who has spent most of his career investigating ribosomes in cancer cells said that the therapy, if tested successfully, could potentially save lives.
The research was published this week in the journal Cancer Cell.