Scientists at the ProXara Biotechnology Limited have identified a way of switching off one of the key mechanisms that leads to the development and growth of a tumour. Under the Wellcome Trust's Seeding Drug Discovery initiative, the researchers hope to use their findings to develop a drug which could be used to fight cancer. The funding will be used to develop the drug to a point at which it is close to entering a clinical trial.
All cells in the body contain protein kinase B (PKB), a naturally-occurring enzyme that if active prevents cells from committing suicide. Programmed cell death, or apoptosis, is an important process in the body's development, but when this process goes wrong, unregulated cell growth occurs, leading to the development of tumour cells.
Recent research has shown that certain types of genetic damage, common to many cancer cells, lead to the movement of PKB from the interior of the cell to its surface membrane. When PKB attaches to the surface membrane, it becomes active, triggering a signal that tells the cell not to commit suicide. Professor Jeremy Tavar at ProXara Biotechnology Ltd, a spin-out company at the University of Bristol, believes that by preventing PKB binding to the cell's surface membrane, he can ensure that apoptosis occurs, thus killing the cancer cells.
"There has been a lot of interest in targeting PKB as a way of preventing tumour growth," says Professor Tavar. "Most of the interest so far has been in developing drugs that block the enzyme's signal. However, such drugs are very non-specific and can have many adverse side effects. We are working on a novel approach to prevent PKB actually binding to the cell membrane."
Professor Tavar and his team have discovered a drug-like compound, which prevents PKB binding to the cell membrane and makes the tumour cells commit suicide. They now wish to develop this compound to a point at which it could be used in clinical trials.