A new drug that strips cancer cells of their “immortality” could help to treat patients suffering from one of the most aggressive forms of leukaemia.
The drug candidate, called HXR9, works by preventing the cancer cells from sidestepping the natural process that causes unhealthy and damaged cells to die, known as apoptosis.
Researchers at the University of Bradford have found the drug could be used to treat acute myeloid leukaemia (AML), which is responsible for 2,500 deaths in the UK and 265,000 worldwide each year.
The drug targets a particular family of genes, called HOX genes, which are involved in controlling the rapid growth of cells. In adults these are switched off but in cancer cells they can be turned back on. This helps to give the cancer cells the ability to continuously grow and divide by circumventing the normal mechanisms that trigger apoptosis – effectively making them immortal.
Professor Richard Morgan, Director of the Institute for Cancer Therapeutics at the University of Bradford who led the research, said HXR9 strips the cancer cells of this ability by turning off the HOX genes.