‘Penicillin’ breakthrough in cancer treatment?

September 15th, 2010 - 5:59 pm ICT by IANS  

London, Sep 15 (IANS) Scientists have hailed as yet another “penicillin moment” the successful clinical trial of a new drug that could halt or reverse the growth of cancer in the human body.
The trials of a drug developed by the US scientists have raised hopes that drug manufacturers will be able to tailor drugs to individual cancers that will halt them in their tracks and even reverse the growth of existing tumours, The Daily Telegraph reported Wednesday.

As part of the latest research, scientists in California developed a drug to block the effects of a specific gene mutation, B-RAF, linked to malignant melanoma - one of the deadliest cancers.

The experts found that tumours shrank by at least 30 percent in 24 out of 32 patients with B-RAF mutations, and disappeared entirely in two other patients.

However, the drug cannot be declared a success. It comes with side-effects, can only treat the specific B-RAF mutation and there are no indications of its long-term usefulness.

The chemical process behind the drug, detailed in the journal Nature, demonstrates the potential for speedy development of similar treatments targeting the particular genetic mutations that lie behind different types of tumour.

Professor Mark Stratton, Director of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Cambridge, which first linked B-RAF to malignant melanoma, said: “We’ve entered an end game in which we are going to complete our understanding of what causes cancer.”

Yardena Samuels, a cancer geneticist at the National Human Genome Research Institute in Bethesda, Maryland, told Nature News: “It’s a very important development, not just for melanoma, but for the entire cancer field.”

The company behind the research is now working on a test that can diagnose which malignant melanoma patients have the B-RAF mutation and would therefore benefit from the drug.

Sir Mark Walport, director of the Wellcome Trust, agreed with suggestions that the breakthrough was a “penicillin moment” for cancer researchers.

However, he said: “We have got to balance the hype and the hope. Cancer is complicated.”

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