San Diego Business Journal

UCSD Research Team Discovers New Way to Kill Cancer Tumors

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Researchers at the UC San Diego School of Medicine and UCSD Moores Cancer Center say they have identified a new drug discovery approach for killing fast-growing tumors while sparing patients some of the toxicity and other negative side effects of existing cancer therapies.

The discovery, published in the Nov. 13 online issue of the journal Nature Medicine, has led to the research team’s development of a new class of experimental drugs that stop tumor cells from dividing by binding to an enzyme called RAF.

The new RAF-targeted compounds are being developed by Amitech Therapeutic Solutions Inc., a San Diego startup. The UCSD research team hopes that one of the newly created compounds will soon enter clinical trials at Moores Cancer Center.

“We are attacking an important enzyme in a whole new way and thereby discovering new things this enzyme was intended for,” said David A. Cheresh, professor of pathology and associate director for translational research at the Moores Cancer Center.

The drug compounds change the enzyme’s shape, rendering it inactive.

The enzyme’s role in cell division, and thus in tumor growth, came as a surprise to the researchers, Cheresh said.

“We were able to reveal this previously undiscovered role for RAF in a wide range of highly proliferative tumors,” said Cheresh, who led the team of scientists in this project.

Current cancer drugs that target enzymes like RAF often lack specificity, Cheresh said. “They hit many different targets, meaning they can produce undesired side effects and induce dose-limiting toxicity.” More of a concern is that tumor cells develop resistance to this class of drugs, rendering them inactive against the cancer, UCSD Health Sciences said in a statement.

Funding for the research came from the National Institutes of Health.

— Kelly Quigley