New cancer drug claims it can lower leukaemia mortality rate

New hope has emerged as a new cancer drug has been synthesised in Singapore which researchers claim  significantly lower the mortality rate of leukaemia and other forms of cancer.

Cancer remains the top cause of death in Singapore
Cancer remains the top cause of death in Singapore as it was responsible for about 30 per cent of deaths in the country in 2015. Photo courtesy: heartline

The drug, ETC-206, can lower mortality rate for leukaemia further compared to traditional chemotherapy which attacks the immune system as much as it kills cancer cells. This drug has been developed by Duke-National University of Singapore Medical School ( Duke-NUS) and the Agency for Science, Technology and Research’s (A*STAR) Drug, Discovery and Development unit (D3) and Experimental Therapeutics Centre (ETC).

According to the Health Ministry, cancer remains the top cause of death in Singapore as it was responsible for about 30 per cent of deaths in Singapore in 2015. A team of scientists worked together for about 60 weeks to synthesise the drug manually. They sifted through 2000 compounds in 700 possible combinations.

This drug specifically stops the Mnk enzyme in the cancer cells- a part of the cell identified with promoting growth - effectively stopping the spread and proliferation of the disease. It was also a Duke-NUS team which first identified the Mnk enzyme as a promising target to attack.

Explaining the working of the drug on the human body, Duke-NUS Associate Professor Ong Sin Tong gave an analogy of cancer cells as cars speeding out of control and in danger of crashing.

He said, “As you can imagine, there are many ways of stopping a car that's going out of control. What we’ve discovered is one specific way of stopping this car – for example, taking the spark plugs out. This drug that we’ve developed with ETC specifically hits this … so that the car will come to a stop."Presently, the drug is under first phase of clinical trials..

The new drug ETC-206 offers hope to patients suffering from leukaemia.
The new drug ETC-206 offers hope to patients suffering from leukaemia. Photo courtesy: conquer

Prof. Alex Matter, CEO of ETC and D3, is quite upbeat about the trial and said, “ Results  to date show that the drug is well-tolerated by the human body when taken orally.”There will be a second trial- or phase 1b - on later stage leukaemia patients which will be done in August.

Prof. Matter said, "If all goes well, in the higher doses we should see some clinical readouts such as a decrease in leukaemic cells. That would be fabulous, and that would encourage us to declare a proof of concept – in principle – to go forward into a Phase 2."

Phase 2 entails testing for the appropriate dose of the drug on a larger patient group.

Researchers said their method of Mnk-inhibition is "a final common path for many human malignancies", and could also translate to the treatment of some other cancers.

Ashraf Jamal
Ashraf Jamal – Senior Writer

Ashraf Jamal brings a rare depth to writing equipped with a degree in journalism, a postgraduate degree in political science, and a degree in law from the Allahabad University. His experience includes editing and publishing the Northern India Patrika and writing for Times of India for almost a decade covering just about any topic under the sun including NRIs and Indian diaspora.


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