New drug hope for breast cancer

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Indy Lifestyle Online

A drug which homes in on the cells that cause the most malignant form of breast cancer has been developed, raising hopes that thousands of lives could be saved.

A drug which homes in on the cells that cause the most malignant form of breast cancer has been developed, raising hopes that thousands of lives could be saved.

The drug, called Phortress, is to begin its first clinical trials on women early next year in both Britain and the US after laboratory tests showed that it successfully attacked breast tumours but left healthy cells unharmed. If the trials are successful, the drug could replace chemotherapy as the main treatment for 14,000 women who develop the most dangerous type of breast cancer every year – the form known as oestrogen receptor negative.

But Cancer Research UK, which has funded the drug's development, warned that it would take at least five to six years before the drug would be fully tested, go through larger clinical trials and then be cleared for use.

However, Dr Richard Sullivan, the charity's director of research, said the organisation was "very optimistic" about its potential. "We're very pleased it has reached this far," he said. "It has a clever and novel way of working – and that's what we're looking for in cancer."

This week sees the start of the annual Breast Cancer Awareness month, as cancer charities begin a concerted drive to raise funds for further medical research, patient care and treatments for a disease which affects up to 40,000 women and 250 men a year.

Celebrities including Cherie Blair, Vinnie Jones, Zoë Ball, Jude Law and Alexander McQueen, along with high street stores and cosmetics firms such as Bhs, Asda, Boots, Rimmel and Estee Lauder, are to take part in fund raising and publicity stunts.

The development of Phortress has led to a medical research award for Dr Tracey Bradshaw, the pharmacologist who leads the team at Nottingham University's cancer unit which has been working on the drug since 1992.

Phortress has excited cancer experts because it is the first cancer drug which directly targets tumorous cells. Many existing treatments, such as chemotherapy, attack all the cells around a tumour, including healthy cells.

Unusually, the drug is inactive when it first enters the body, and becomes activated only when it detects a particular enzyme which is closely associated with oestrogen receptor negative cancer cells. It then accumulates and attacks the cancer cell's DNA, causing it "lethal damage".

Phortress can, however, harm some healthy cells, but there is also optimism the drug can kill tumours in ovarian, lung, colon and renal cancer.

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