Starving the tumour
The research, published in the academic cancer journal Oncogene, centres on the role in the body of the signal protein vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF). VEGF comes in two forms — proangiogenic, which encourages the growth or blood vessels, and anti-angiogenic, which inhibits vascular growth.
The researchers have discovered that in prostate cancer the cancer cells produce proangiogenic VEGF to form the new blood vessels that are needed to carry vital nutrients and oxygen to tumours.
As a result, the academics have developed a compound that can switch the production of VEGF from the proangiogenic form to the anti-angiogenic form to block the formation of new blood vessels and cause the tumours to starve themselves, preventing the growth and spread of the cancer.
The researchers studied patients with prostate cancer and found that the expression of levels of proangiogenic VEGF varied across the group. They focused their work on patients who had a high expression of the protein and used cancer cells from bone metastases to study the mechanism of the VEGF in tumour formation.
They were able to demonstrate that a new chemical they called SPHINX could be used successfully to switch the forms of VEGF in mice in the laboratory and prevent tumour growth with very few side effects when given three times weekly by injections.
Having shown proof of concept, the next step will be for the Biotech company Exonate, a spin-out drug development company from The University of Nottingham, to develop a compound that recreates the effects in humans and to develop a drug that could be injected or taken orally in tablet form.
If successful, the new drug could be used as a long-term maintenance therapy to keep a patient’s prostate cancer in check and to prevent its growth and further spread to other organs in the body.
The study was funded by Prostate Cancer UK, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and Richard Bright VEGF Research Trust.
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