August 8, 2008

Marine Bacteria Might Help Fight Cancer

U.S. scientists say they've found a marine compound that inhibits cancer cell growth in lab tests and that might lead to new anti-cancer drugs.

University of Florida College of Pharmacy researchers said the patented compound, called largazole, is derived from cyanobacteria that grow on coral reefs.

"It's exciting because we've found a compound in nature that may one day surpass a currently marketed drug or could become the structural template for rationally designed drugs with improved selectivity," said Assistant Professor Hendrik Luesch, the study's principal investigator.

Largazole inhibits enzymes called histone deacetylase, or HDAC, the researchers said. Overactivity of some HDACs has been associated with cancers such as prostate and colon tumors and inhibiting HDACs can activate tumor-suppressor genes.

Although HDACs are already targeted by a drug approved for cutaneous T-cell lymphoma, the new compound doesn't inhibit all HDACs equally. That means a largazole-based drug might result in improved therapies and fewer side effects, Luesch said.

Largazole was initially described in the Journal of the American Chemical Society in February. The molecular basis for its anti-cancer activity appeared in the journal's July 2 issue.

Researchers summarized those results Thursday during an international scientific meeting in Athens, Greece.