New therapies in development to starve cancer cells

Cancer researcher Assistant Professor Jeff HoistNew cancer therapies for patients with some of the most difficult-to-treat cancers are now being developed following a major discovery by scientists in the ACRF Centenary Cancer Research Centre based at the Centenary Institute in Sydney.

These drugs block metabolic processes critical to cancer cells and are currently in the early stages of development.

Clinical trials are likely to commence within three years thanks to a recent new investment in this research, including a $2.5 M grant from the Australian Cancer Research Foundation (ACRF).

Centenary’s scientists are focused on new treatments for patients suffering with cancers associated with very low survival rates and for which limited treatment options are available. Having revealed links between cancer and its metabolism of nutrients, they have developed a novel method of starving cancer cells – but not normal cells – essentially cutting the energy supply to the diseased cell.

The study led by Associate Professor Jeff Holst, Head of Origins of Cancer Program at Centenary Institute and Sydney University, revealed an important role for a protein involved in the metabolism of certain cancer cells that is vital for helping them survive and grow.

“If we are able to specifically block the supply of nutrients to cancer cells by inhibiting the function of this protein, we can essentially ‘starve’ the cells and stop them from growing”, Associate Professor Jeff Holst said.

In collaboration with University of Sydney researchers, the team has also been able to identify molecules that block the action of the protein and these are now being developed as possible new drugs. The new therapy will focus on translating the results of Associate Professor Holst’s research into drugs for testing in clinical trials.

The discoveries leading to the development of the new treatment have been published in Oncogene, International Journal of Cancer and Journal of Pathology.

ACRF has supported cancer research at the Centenary Institute by providing two grants, totalling AUD$ 7.5 M, for the establishment of the ACRF Centenary Cancer Research Centre and purchase of cutting-edge research equipment and technology.

Image of A/Prof Holst courtesy of the Centenary Institute.