Pulse 148: Experimental Drug May Prevent Cancer Relapse

21 April 2020
Giulio Prisco

Cancer Survivor

Besides some encouraging COVID-19 related news, such as a confirmation of the effective action of the drug remdesivir against COVID-19, there's interesting news on the cancer front from the Francis Crick Institute. An experimental drug called Quisinostat has been tested in live mice and human cancer cells, showing anti-cancer action (see below). In particular, the drug could prevent cancer from returning in patients who have already had treatment, which is one of the biggest challenges in cancer research.

“This drug works by disabling the cells that fuel long-term cancer growth and drive disease relapse. These early findings even suggest it may be more effective than commonly used drugs that inhibit tumor growth,” said lead researcher Cristina Morales Torres. “Further research is still needed to confirm whether this drug could prevent cancer coming back in people or if it could be used to control someone’s disease long term.”

Researcher Paola Scaffidi added that finding a potential drug that halts tumor growth without harming normal cells has been a challenge. “Excitingly, with Quisinostat, we’ve seen no harm to healthy stem cells in our initial studies,” she said.

Drugs Shows Anti-Cancer Action in Lab

Researchers at the Francis Crick Institute have identified a drug that is well-tolerated in patients and prevents cancer from coming back in mice.

A study published in Nature Communications shows that an experimental drug, Quisinostat, could stop tumor re-growth. Initial tests were in live mice and in human cancer cells in culture.

The drug works by increasing the amount of a protein called histone H1.0 within the tumor cells. This protein stops the cancer cells from replicating and, thus, the tumor from growing.

The researchers hope that the anti-cancer action of Quisinostat will be confirmed by further tests and clinical trials.

Remdesivir May Stop COVID-19 Virus Replication

Scientists at University of Alberta have shown that the drug remdesivir is highly effective at stopping the replication mechanism of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

The finding follows closely on research demonstrating how the drug worked against the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) virus, a related coronavirus. Remdesivir was developed in 2014 to fight the Ebola epidemic.

A research paper published in Journal of Biological Chemistry shows that the drug is a very potent inhibitor for coronavirus polymerases, the “engine” of the virus responsible for synthesizing the virus' genome.

According to the scientists, the findings reinforce the promise of remdesivir clinical trials, already underway around the world for COVID-19 patients.

Engineered Proteins May Treat COVID-19

MIT researchers have developed specialized proteins, similar in structure to antibodies, that they believe could soak up the excess cytokines produced during a cytokine storm.

A cytokine storm, sometimes seen in COVID-19 patients, is an excessive immune response, which can be fatal. Cytokine storms can also be produced by viral or bacterial infections, including HIV and hepatitis, and occur as a side effect of cancer immunotherapy.

A paper published in QRB Discovery details how the researchers developed water-soluble cytokine receptors able to absorb excess cytokines like a sponge. The researchers are persuaded that the findings are directly relevant to the treatment of COVID-19 infected patients.

Promising Advance Toward COPD Therapies

Stem cell researchers at University of Houston have found an abundance of abnormal stem cells in the lungs of patients who suffer from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).

COPD is a leading cause of death worldwide. The abnormal cells may cause inflammation, fibrosis, and small airway obstruction in COPD patients.

The researchers cloned lung stem cells to make their discovery, reported in a paper published in Cell. Now that the identity of the cells is known, the researchers are targeting them with new therapeutics.

COVID-19 May Result in Smell and Taste Loss

Researchers at UC San Diego have confirmed that COVID-19 infection is likely to result in loss of smell and taste sensations. The results of a study with 59 COVID-19-positive patients and 203 COVID-19-negative patients were published in International Forum of Allergy & Rhinology.

The results indicate that patients with smell and taste loss are more than ten times more likely to have COVID-19 infection than other causes of infection. The most common first sign of a COVID-19 infection remains fever, but fatigue and loss of smell and taste follow as other very common initial symptoms. Other known symptoms of COVID-19 include cough and difficulty breathing.

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