Cancer Research UK scientists have discovered a promising new approach to treat a type of myeloid leukemia – a cancer with limited treatment options and relatively poor survival, according to research published in Cancer Cell.
The team at the Paterson Institute for Cancer Research at The University of Manchester have identified a new drug target – an enzyme called LSD1 – for an aggressive form of acute myeloid leukemia called mixed lineage leukemia (MLL). LSD1 helps control whether certain cancer-causing genes are turned on or off. Blocking the enzyme prevents the production of proteins that drive the cancer.
Scientists at the Cancer Research UK’s Paterson Drug Discovery Unit designed and constructed a new molecule to block this enzyme and showed that they could stop the growth of leukemia cells – taken from patients with the disease, and also from mice.
Every year in the UK around 2,380 people are diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia and of these it is estimated that around five percent – around 120 patients – have the MLL subtype.
Survival for acute myeloid leukemia remains low although it has improved. Currently, around forty percent of people aged under 60 with the MLL-AF9 subtype survive the disease for five years or more.
Lead author, Dr Tim Somervaille, group leader at Cancer Research UK’s Leukemia Biology Laboratory at the Paterson Institute, said: “It’s difficult to successfully treat patients with this type of leukemia. There aren’t any targeted drugs available and many patients can’t be cured with current treatments, such as intensive chemotherapy and bone marrow transplantation. So there’s an urgent need for new drugs.
“We’re very pleased to have developed a molecule that homes in on an enzyme called LSD1 in a completely new approach to stop the growth of this disease. And we also believe this target may be important in a range of other types of cancer, but more research is needed.
“The next stage is to develop molecules like this one further, and run clinical trials to see if they could be used to treat patients in the future.”
Dr Julie Sharp, Cancer Research UK’s senior science information manager, said: “It’s great news that this molecule could provide a new targeted way to treat an aggressive type of leukemia, for which treatment options are limited.
“Our scientists have been at the heart of progress that has seen great improvements in the treatment of leukemia. For example, we developed some of the first important drugs for blood cancers and pioneered treatment with radiotherapy. And we’ve revealed many of the gene changes that fuel the development and growth of blood cancers, paving the way for future treatments.
“But there is much more to be done and, only with continued public support, can our scientists around the UK continue their groundbreaking research into leukemia to learn more about the biology of the disease – and improve survival.”
Date: March 29, 2012
Source: Cancer Research UK