Scientists from the Imperial College of London have found a promising drug that may be the way ahead in the treatment of an aggressive form of lung cancer.
The drug eliminated small cell lung cancer tumours in 50 percent of mice, and blocked the cells' ability to resist standard chemotherapy treatment.
The researchers are now planning to take the drug into clinical trials, to establish whether it could offer hope to patients with an inoperable form of lung cancer.
One in five people with lung cancer have small cell lung cancer and only three per cent of these people are expected to survive for five years.
In the new study, researchers identified drug that, in some mice, was able to completely shrink tumours away.
In the mouse models, the drug could stop tumours from growing and it helped other forms of chemotherapy to work more effectively.
If the drug proves successful in humans, researchers hope that it could help patients with this kind of lung cancer to live longer.
In small cell lung cancer, tumours spread quickly because the tumour cells grow and divide faster than normal cells.
In earlier research, the researchers showed that these tumour cells proliferate faster because they are fuelled by a growth hormone called FGF-2.
This growth hormone also triggers a survival mechanism in the tumour cells that makes them become resistant to chemotherapy.
In the current study, researchers looked at the effect of a drug called PD173074, which blocks the receptor that FGF-2 uses to attach to the tumour cells.
They found that the drug stopped cancer cells from proliferating and from becoming resistant to treatment in 'test-tube' laboratory models.
In one animal model of small cell lung cancer, the drug eliminated tumours in 50 percent of mice and in a second, similar mouse model, the drug enhanced the effect of standard chemotherapy.
"Our new research in mice suggests that it may be possible to develop the drug PD173074 into a new targeted therapy for small cell lung cancer. We hope to take this drug, or a similar drug that also stops FGF-2 from working, into clinical trials next year to see if it is a successful treatment for lung cancer in humans. An added bonus of this drug is that it could be taken orally, which would make it less invasive than some other forms of cancer therapy," said Professor Michael Seckl, corresponding author of the study.
The study has been published in the journal Cancer Research.