Description: Researchers have developed an anti-cancer drug that can travel through the bloodstream and act solely on specific cancer proteins. The drug comes from a weed known as Thapsia garganica, which grows in Mediterranean countries and has for centuries been known to be toxic to animals. The researchers tweaked a product the plant creates, known as thapsigargin, to attack prostate tumors.
Researchers: Scientists at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center, with lead author Dr. Samuel Denmeade, professor of oncology, urology, pharmacology and molecular sciences.
Stage of research: Hopkins doctors have treated 29 patients with advanced cancer using the drug in first-phase clinical trials to assess its safety. In lab studies, researchers implanted mice with human prostate tumors and gave them each a three-day course of the drug, which is called G202. The drug was found to have reduced seven out of nine tumors by more than 50 percent within three weeks, compared with chemotherapy drug docetaxel shrinking one out of eight tumors by the same margin. Phase II trials on patients with prostate and liver cancers are planned.
Implications: Researchers said they are intrigued that the drug essentially causes tumor cells to stop sustaining themselves. It blocks the function of a protein that maintains tumor cells' calcium level, affecting both the tumors cells, blood vessels that feed them, and other cells nearby.