New drug combination makes cancer more sensitive to chemo: Study

17 July 2015

A report published in the journal Cancer Cell reported, combining chemotherapy with new drugs that target a protein, which helped cancer cells to withstand chemotherapy could drastically improve treatment.

University of Manchester researchers carefully studied a network of proteins that kicked into action when cancer cells in the lab are treated with a class of chemotherapy drugs called taxanes, commonly used to treat several cancers including breast, ovarian and prostate cancers. However, not all cancers respond to the drugs, and it was difficult to predict which patients would benefit.

The researchers studied this network in a range of cancers to try and find out why some could survive taxane-based chemotherapy.

The team identified a particular component of this network a protein called Bcl-xL which helped the cancer cells survive treatment by blocking the self-destruct process that normally killed cells when treated with chemotherapy drugs.

By combining drugs to block Bcl-xL with taxanes, the researchers showed that the combination of treatments killed many more cancer cells in the lab than taxanes alone.

Study leader professor Stephen Taylor, Cancer Research UK senior research fellow and Leech Professor of Pharmacology at the University of Manchester, said, ''This important research shows us there's potential to boost the cancer-fighting power of chemotherapy and do more with less.

''This new combination could 'soften-up' cancer cells, making it easier for chemotherapy to deliver the final blow and destroy the tumour. And the good news is that drugs targeting Bcl-xL are already out there and being tested in clinical trials.

''Using this combination of drugs could improve treatment for patients receiving taxanes and lower their chemotherapy dose, which would also help to reduce side-effects.''

Dr Emma Smith, a senior science information officer at Cancer Research UK, said, "Predicting which patients will benefit most from chemotherapy is essential if we're going to make cancer treatments more effective and kinder.

"In cases where chemotherapy doesn't seem to work straight away, we could add drugs that target Bcl-xL and hopefully see a real difference. It's still early days for this research but, if the results are confirmed in clinical trials, it has the potential to improve treatment for thousands of cancer patients."

It may be noted however, that this combination of drugs had only been tested on cancer cells in a laboratory and not on animals or humans yet.

New drugs from laboratories go through a process of testing over several years before they are accepted for active use, and not all drugs made it the various stages of testing.

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