Scientists at Imperial College London have launched a project to develop new drugs for patients who stop responding to cancer treatment.
The team, led by Dr Maurits Kleijnen, has been awarded £140,000 by Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research to improve treatments for myeloma, a currently incurable blood cancer. Myeloma is diagnosed in over 3,300 people in the UK every year and causes debilitating pain in patients through bone damage.
In recent years, a drug called Velcade has proven very effective at increasing survival times for myeloma patients. Unfortunately, patients eventually develop resistance to this treatment and the cancer returns.
Velcade is a proteasome inhibitor: a targeted drug that causes cancer cells to ‘commit suicide’, preventing the disease from spreading. Proteasomes are found in all cells including myeloma cells. They control the amounts of proteins that, in turn, regulate cell growth. When drugs such as Velcade disable the proteasome, defective proteins build up uncontrollably in the myeloma cell, causing the cell to self-destruct.
Experts in proteasome biology, Dr Kleijnen and his team have developed new research compounds called cPE inhibitors, which are able to target proteasomes in a new way. The team has shown in the laboratory that one of these new compounds is able to kill Velcade-resistant myeloma cell populations.
Dr Kleijnen, of Imperial’s Department of Medicine, said: “We are working towards preventing the emergence of treatment resistance among myeloma patients, by developing new types of compounds that are effective against Velcade-resistant myeloma cells. cPE inhibitors are the first of their kind – they seem to engage with the proteasome in an entirely different manner to current proteasome inhibitor drugs such as Velcade.”
The grant from Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research will enable the Imperial team to look specifically at exactly how cPE inhibitors target myeloma cells, with the aim that these can be developed into drugs that can be given to patients.
Dr David Grant, Scientific Director at Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research, said: “Myeloma remains a cancer which is very difficult to cure. Many patients diagnosed with myeloma will relapse at some stage after the first course of treatment. This research offers real hope that new effective drugs can be developed to keep the cancer under control.”