Researchers have identified a host of targets in the cancer cells which can be treated by new drugs so that the healthy cells are left unaffected.
Conventional chemotherapy attacks all the cells which are dividing. This includes cancer cells as well as healthy cells. This research tried to develop targeted drugs which would attack only the cancer cells and will not harm the healthy cells. But, before such drugs can be developed, new targets need to be identified.
The researchers gathered and analyzed data from 5000 cancer patients. One common feature of cancer cells is that the DNA repair system of the affected cell becomes defective. Hence, the cell cannot repair the defect. So it goes on dividing and the mutations go on increasing almost uncontrollably and the disease intensifies. The type of defect in the DNA repair system varies. If this defect is identified, then only would it be possible to develop drugs that target cells with this particular defect.
The PARP inhibitors are a group of targeted drugs like this. They attack cells with defective BRCA genes in women with breast and ovarian cancer. This drug is now under trial. Researchers used precision instruments to identify several other such defects. This will help the development of targeted precision medicines and patients can avoid the destructive side effects of conventional chemotherapy. The drugs which are now used target only a few defective proteins. Big data analysis helped to identify many such new defects so that new precision drugs may be developed.
The study was led by Dr Frances Pearl, the head of the Bioinformatics Research Group at the University of Sussex and Dr Bissan Al-Lazikani, Team Leader in Cancer Therapeutics at The Institute of Cancer Research, London. The results were published in Nature Reviews Cancer.