Promising Cancer Drug Developed From Accidental Fungus
According to a group of U.S. researchers, a drug created from both a fungus that contaminated a lab experiment, and nanotechnology could be effective in fighting a broad range of cancers.
The drug, called lodamin was improved in one of the final experiments overseen by recently deceased Dr. Judah Folkman, a pioneer of angiogenesis therapy ““ a process that starves tumors by keeping them from growing blood supplies.
Folkman’s team has been working to perfect the angiogenesis drug for 20 years. According to the journal Nature Biotechnology, his associates developed a formula that works as a pill, without side effects.
SynDevRx, Inc, a privately held Cambridge, Massachusetts biotechnology company, has licensed lodamin.
The drug worked against a variety of tumors, including neuroblastoma, ovarian cancer, brain tumors known as glioblastomas, uterine tumors, and breast cancer when tested in mice.
Ofra Benny of Children’s Hospital Boston and Harvard Medical School reported that lodamin helped stop primary tumors and also prevented their spread.
"Using the oral route of administration, it first reaches the liver, making it especially efficient in preventing the development of liver metastasis in mice," colleges reported. "Liver metastasis is very common in many tumor types and is often associated with a poor prognosis and survival rate," they added.
"When I looked at the livers of the mice, the treated group was almost clean," Benny said in a statement. "In the control group you couldn’t recognize the livers — they were a mass of tumors."
The drug was originally isolated from a fungus called Aspergillus fumigatus fresenius and was known experimentally as TNP-470.
The fungus was discovered by Harvard’s Donald Ingber by accident while trying to grow cells that line blood vessels, or endothelial cells.Â The cells were affected by the mold in a way that prevented the growth of small blood vessels called capillaries.
TNP-470 was developed by Ingber and Folkman with the help of Takeda Chemical Industries in Japan in 1990.
But the drug would not stay in the body for very long and required continual infusions.Â It also affected the patients’ brain causing dizziness, depression, and other side-effects.Â Takeda Chemical Industries dropped it.
Efforts to improve the drug were unsuccessful until Benny tried using nanotechnology and attached two polymers to TNP-470 to protect it from stomach acid.
The altered drug, now called lodamin, went straight to tumor cells and suppressed lung cancer and melanoma in mice, without side effects, Benny said.
According to researchers, untreated mice had tumor covered livers, while mice treated with lodamin had normal livers and spleens.
Benny’s team reported that after twenty days, four out of seven untreated mice died, while all the mice treated with lodamin were still alive.
"I had never expected such a strong effect on these aggressive tumor models," Benny said.
Researchers believe lodamin may also be useful in age-related macular degeneration and other diseases marked by abnormal blood vessel growth.
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