Breakthrough lung cancer drug discovery by Melbourne researchers

26th July, 2016

A BREAKTHROUGH discovery has opened up a potential new drug to stop lung cancer and emphysema as well as detecting the killer diseases much sooner. Researchers from Melbourne’s Hudson Institute of Medical Science have identified an inflammation-causing molecule that is responsible for signalling both diseases to wreck their havoc.In a major step, the researchers have discovered an existing drug — now in European human trials to fight inflammatory bowel disease — that appears able to shut down the signalling system and offer new hope to the 15,000 Australians who die from the diseases each year. Having also developed a blood test capable of detecting increased amounts of the molecule, Interleukin 6, lead researcher Prof Brendan Jenkins said screening may one day be able to detect the diseases before the danger is switched on.

While increases in Interleukin 6, or Il-6, have been linked to the diseases previously, the six-year work by the Hudson team has uncovered the “trans-signalling” process it uses to drive cell growth in lung cancer, as well as cell destruction in emphysema. “The beauty of the two studies we have done is that we have shown that yes, the molecule is increased in the blood and tissue biopsies, but importantly we have shown that if you target Il-6 and block it you will see a suppression of disease in both lung cancer and emphysema,” Prof Jenkins said. “Importantly, we have now identified the way of targeting Il-6.”

German collaborators at the University of Kiel have developed an experimental drug sgp130Fc to target a similar signalling process in inflammatory bowel disease, which has now shown promise during Melbourne animal trials to also act on lung cancer and emphysema. The drug contains a naturally occurring receptor that is designed to bind to the Il-6 molecule like a key fitting into a lock. When it does, the molecule is blocked from attaching itself to lung cells and cannot pass on signals to grow of self destruct.

With Melbourne studies proving “very effective” in halting both diseases in mice, Prof Jenkins is monitoring the European trials in the hope cancer and emphysema trials may be fast tracked.“You see a dramatic reduction in the amount of tumours forming — they just don’t seem to grow anywhere near as well as the tumours would if sgp130Fc was not there,” Prof Jenkins said.“ It is very effective at blocking and retarding the growth of these tumours. “The more amazing thing is that if you treat an animal just before they would normally start to develop emphysema, the mice just don’t develop the disease at all. It blocks it completely and there is no emphysema at all.” Findings of the lung cancer study were published earlier this, while the emphysema results were published overnight in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine. The Hudson team is now working with Monash Health to analyse more patient blood samples to further develop the blood test for both diseases.

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