Developing a new drug - A totally new approach to therapy (Professor Justin Stebbing)
My brilliant friend and colleague, Dr Georgios Giamas, recently identified a new cancer causing gene. Remarkably, this gene, called LMTK3, is new to humans, which helps to explain the unique susceptibility of all of us to certain types of cancer. We want to establish the 3-dimensional crystal structure of LMTK3 – its shape, so we can find drugs that fit into it, and block its activity. We know that LMTK3 turns cancer cells on. Finding the crystal structure will enable accurate drug design and we hope to make 4-5 compounds for testing in people with end stage cancers. In the laboratory we now have compelling data for breast, colon, gastric and brain cancers, showing that this gene is central to cancer causation, turning normal cells into cancer cells. Those cancers that have high levels of LMTK3 are much more aggressive.
The purpose of this drug is to be different in that it will be designed to work in conjunction with a patient's existing treatment, to make sure that they don't become resistant to it. Many patients respond well to initial treatment but then develop resistance to it – this is when, with currently available treatments, their cancer becomes much more difficult to treat. The new drug will be specifically designed to work in a way that overcomes chemotherapy or hormonal therapy resistance, making the cells sensitive again. Drug companies and biotech organisations used to be solely responsible for cancer drug development. These walls are being broken down and I believe that we can develop drugs ourselves – having access, not only to brilliant laboratories, but also to patients, gives us an enormous advantage.
This would be one of the biggest breakthroughs ever in cancer medicine. There are currently no drugs that can overcome resistance to therapy. An anti-LMTK3 drug would, we believe, allow the initial treatment to start working again, bring back hope to patients, and ultimately save their lives.