Researchers from the National Cancer Institute (NCI), the University of Kansas, and the National Center for Advancing Translational Science (NCATS) have discovered a compound that can block the spread of some types of cancer cells.
Preventing cancer metastasis
Metastasis is how cancer spreads from an initial site to a secondary site within the host’s body; the newly pathological sites, then, are metastases. Metastasis is what makes some cancers so lethal and hard to treat unless they are caught before they spread.
In the late 90s, Dr. Huang and her team had discovered the biomarker that indicates a cancer cell’s ability to metastasize and form secondary tumors. This biomarker is a complex marker called the perinucleolar compartment (PNC), and its presence in tumors indicates its ability to spread. They found that the higher the PNC level, the less likely a patient was to survive.
In the new study, Dr. Huang and her team demonstrate that a new compound called metarrestin can significantly reduce metastasis in human prostate, pancreatic, and breast cancer cells transplanted into mice .
During the study, the researchers screened 140,000 compounds using high-throughput assays to identify a compound that might stop metastasis. They eventually found a compound that did just that, but they modified it further in order to make it more efficient.
They found that mice given metarrestin had fewer tumors in their lungs and livers while living longer than control mice not given the compound. The team has already approached the FDA for approval under the investigational drug fast-track system with the aim of launching a human clinical trial for the drug. The drug is unique in that it it is specifically designed to prevent cancer metastasis, which no other drug on the market does.
In a press release, Dr. Huang said, “The metastatic cancer cell is a beast that is nearly entirely different from a normal cell” and “Targeting one thing is not sufficient to stop metastatic cancer.”
Quite often, the primary tumor is not what kills a patient; instead, metastasis forms secondary tumors that result in death, even after the original tumor is removed using surgery or destroyed by chemotherapy or radiotherapy.
“What kills people is when cancer spreads to other organs, such as when breast cancer spreads to the brain, liver, lungs or bones,” Dr. Huang said.
While cancer survival rates have dramatically improved in the last few decades thanks to better diagnoses and drugs, the survival rate for people suffering from metastatic cancer has not improved much.
Having a drug that can directly target and inhibit metastasis in cancer cells is very important indeed. It is easy to imagine that metarrestin could be used as a co-therapy with other cancer treatments, boosting survival rates for people with metastatic cancers by greatly reducing their ability to spread to other areas of the body via the bloodstream.