Drugs to Genetically 'target' Cancers

BETHESDA, Md., Sept. 15 (UPI) — U.S. scientists say they’re on the trail of drugs that can use genetic data to target individual types of cancers, stopping and even reversing them.

Researchers using genetic information derived from the human genome sequencing project have completed a clinical trial of a drug to block the effects of a specific gene mutation linked to malignant melanoma, one of the deadliest cancers, Britain’s Daily Telegraph reported Wednesday.

In the trial, tumors shrank by at least 30 per cent in 24 out of 32 patients and disappeared entirely in two other patients, the newspaper said.

Further trials will be called for, as the drug has side effects and can only treat the one very narrow type of gene mutation, researchers say.

But study of the chemical process behind the drug suggests the potential for development of similar treatments targeting particular genetic mutations causing different types of tumors, an article in the journal Nature says.

“It’s a very important development, not just for melanoma, but for the entire cancer field,” Yardena Samuels, a cancer geneticist at the National Human Genome Research Institute in Bethesda, Maryland, said.

“We’ve entered an end game in which we are going to complete our understanding of what causes cancer,” said Mark Stratton, Director of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Cambridge, England, which first linked the specific gene mutation to malignant melanoma.

The breakthrough amounted to a “penicillin moment” for cancer researchers, Sir Mark Walport, director of the Wellcome Trust, said.

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