There is a potential breakthrough in treating metastatic breast cancer. Early findings just released show a new compound can kill 95 to 100 percent of cancer cells.
The data is early and comes from animal tests, but researchers are saying it looks promising.
The drug can shrink even large tumors and works in just days.
“All the tumors have been eradicated. They've been destroyed and they're no longer detectable," said David Shapiro, a University of Illinois biochemistry professor.
When Shapiro first saw the images, he couldn’t believe his eyes.
“It was hard to imagine that we had a drug that would take cancers and cause them to just disappear in a matter of days,” said Shapiro.
But that’s just what they found. The compound known as ErSO selectively exploits the pathway that shields cancer cells from being killed off by anti-cancer drugs.
“We hijack this pathway with the drug, and instead of just tweaking it a little bit to help the cell grow, we turn it on so high that the cell just shuts everything down,” explained Shapiro, who led the research with Illinois chemistry professor Paul Hergenrother.
The imaging is startling.
“This is breast cancer that has metastasized to the upper spine, to the lung, to the liver, and also the lower spine,” explained Shapiro, pointing to scans of a mouse with cancerous tumors. “Untreated, this mouse would die within a week or two.”
But just seven days after treatment, the tumors have been destroyed, and the cancer was eradicated.
Four months later, without additional treatment, there are no detectable tumors.
“We have been making these kinds of drugs for over a decade and none of them ever did anything remotely like that,” said Shapiro.
Professor Shapiro and his team of scientists at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign published their findings in the journal Science Translational Medicine.
Researchers say ErSO can target the most common and deadly forms of breast cancer.
“Metastatic cancer is very difficult. You can't really cure it currently. You can treat it, you can slow it down, but eventually, pretty much all the patients with metastatic breast cancer die,” said Shapiro.
The findings were so impressive that a year before the study was even published, pharmaceutical company Bayer bought the exclusive licensing rights in a deal worth up to $370 million to develop ErSO as a cancer therapy.
“The hope is that this one could move quickly, that they'll be fairly dramatic results in people as well,” said Shapiro.
Researchers' next task is to test the drug against other kinds of cancer.
ErSO would still need to clear clinical trials over the next few years to test for safety and efficacy in humans before it could be marketed.
But Shapiro says there is considerable optimism.
“I think if you're a researcher, you hope that someday in your life you'll do something that might actually help people," he said.