Scientists in New York have pioneered a new molecule capable of killing a common cancer causing gene. Responsible for many types of cancer, the AKT cancer gene degrades when exposed to the MS21 molecule engineered by Mount Sinai researchers.

In lab tests the therapeutic agent manufactured by the scientists disrupted a ‘biological pathway that helps cancer survive’. In the Mount Sinai study, published today in Cancer Discovery, the researchers presents evidence that ‘pharmacological degradation of AKT is a viable treatment for cancers with mutations in certain genes’.

“Our study lays a solid foundation for the clinical development of an AKT degrader for the treatment of human cancers with certain gene mutations,” said Dr Ramon Parsons, Director of The Tisch Cancer Institute and Ward-Coleman Chair in Cancer Research and Chair of Oncological Sciences at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. “Examination of 44,000 human cancers identified that 19% of tumours have at least one of these mutations, suggesting that a large population of cancer patients could benefit from therapy with an AKT degrader such as MS21.”

The therapy works to reverse the processes AKT paves the way for, inhibits tumour growth, and could prove to be a major breakthrough in the fight against cancer.

“Translating these findings into effective cancer therapies for patients is a high priority because the mutations and the resulting cancer-driving pathways that we lay out in this study are arguably the most commonly activated pathways in human cancer, but this effort has proven to be particularly challenging,” added Dr Jian Jin, Mount Sinai Professor in Therapeutics Discovery and Director of the Mount Sinai Center for Therapeutics Discovery at Icahn Mount Sinai. “We look forward to an opportunity to develop this molecule into a therapy that is ready to be studied in clinical trials.”

Precision treatments

The study follows another major breakthrough by European researchers earlier this year that could lead to the development of precision treatments that can destroy cancers at source.

Until now the similarity between cancer cells and healthy cells has made destroying one, while protecting the other, tough. But a new method developed by teams from the Centre for Genomic Regulation (CRG) and the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) overcomes the challenge by allowing scientists to make the distinction based on the cells genetics and gene expression. Called MutaSeq, the game changing method relies on single cell sequencing: where scientists gather detailed information from thousands of individual cells.

“MutaSeq works like a PCR test for coronavirus, but at a much more complex level and with a single cell as starting material,” explains Lars Velten, Group Leader at the CRG and author of the paper. “Our vision is to identify cancer stem cell specific drug targets in a personalised manner, making it ultimately as easy for patients and doctors to look for these treatments as it is testing for coronavirus.”

The discovery, published in the spring in the journal Nature Communications, opens the door for a new era of personalised medicines that can eradicate cancer. And follows major milestones in the fight against the disease in 2020, including progress on a potentially cancer-killing therapy labelled the most promising to date; and the creation of a noninvasive test that can detect prostate cancer, currently the second most common life-ending cancer in the USA, according to the American Cancer Society.

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