NU researchers create drug to stop spread of prostate cancer

Daniel Schlessinger

Northwestern researchers have developed a drug that could freeze the spread of prostate cancer.

“If you can just imagine the side effects of prostate cancer treatment, you’re either castrated physically, or you’re castrated chemically,” said Phil Hoffer, an 11-year prostate cancer survivor who runs a support group.

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men. If the drug halts the cancer early, surgery can easily remove it.

Dr. Li Xu, research professor at NU’s Feinberg School of Medicine, presented the NU team’s findings April 3 at the 2012 American Association for Cancer Research conference in Chicago. Dr. Ray Bergan, the director of experimental therapeutics at the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center, described the drug as “the first of its kind.”

Bergan said his previous research suggested that genistein, a natural substance, had a positive effect on cancer metastasis, or spread. But it also had numerous side effects. Bergan’s team, including Xu, worked with Weinberg chemistry Prof. Karl Scheidt to alter tiny chemical features in genistein and find which ones produced the most favorable effects in mice. They ended up with a product with zero side effects and a miniscule 4 percent metastasis rate.

“Most drugs work by killing cancer cells, but in doing so, they also kill normal cells,” Xu said. “This doesn’t kill cancer cells, but keeps it stationary. It’s like turning off the switch for metastasis.”

The new drug, temporarily dubbed KBU2046, is unique in that it is derived from a completely natural substance, Bergan said.

“There have been some new therapies approved recently by the Food and Drug Administration, and they have an effect, and each prolongs life by two to three months,” Bergan said. “The fact of the matter is, two to three months doesn’t get you much.”

Xu and Bergan said from here, they hope to discover what effects KBU2046 really has on the body.

“This drug may also work on other types of cancer,” Xu said. “First, we want to know which proteins it specifically inhibits.”

Once the team can narrow down the real effects, Bergansaid he hopes to test the drug in humans. The team is currently searching for monetary sources, because the drug development process can be extremely costly, Bergan said.

If the drug is successful in treating prostate cancer in humans, it could dramtically improve quality of life for patients.

“You’re taking all those drugs plus chemotherapy, and you don’t throw up or get sick, but you do get very, very tired,” Hoffer said. “Anything that can reduce the side effects I feel very positively about.”

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