A new class of drug has been discovered that could help the millions of people who suffer from treatment-resistant cancers every year.
Researchers including chemists, biologists and clinicians at Imperial College London collaborated to produce the molecule, which targets an enzyme called CDK7.
This enzyme is involved in the process of transcription within cells, something that treatment-resistant breast cancers in particular have a unique dependence upon.
The molecule the team created, ICEC0942, was found the shut down the ability of the cancer to spread by interfering with replication. During the tests, it was able to suppress tumour growth in a wide range of cancer types and also worked better in combination with traditional hormone therapies.
Early examination found that ICEC0942 was successful in targeting resistant breast cancers with minimal side effects.
This is particularly important because patients with breast cancer are increasingly becoming resistant to existing hormone-based treatments, which typically leads to the disease becoming fatal in the long term.
ICEC0942 went on to be licensed to Carrick Therapeutics and the company developed it into CT7001, which moved to early-stage clinical trials in less than two years.
The first test patient was given the drug in November 2017 and trials are still ongoing, so no results are available yet. However, it is hoped that the treatment will also prove effective against acute myeloid leukaemia and small-cell lung cancer, which are also transcription-dependent.
If the Phase I trial is a success, the compound will go on to further trials and could be available to patients in a few years' time.
Writing in the journal Molecular Cancer Therapeutics, study author Professor Charles Coombes said: "Once a cancer stops responding to treatments there is increasingly little clinicians can do. Drugs such as these could help to shift the balance back in favour of the patients, potentially providing a new option to patients for who existing treatments no longer work."
Although many types of cancer respond well to treatment such as chemotherapy initially, they can develop resistance over time due to DNA mutations and metabolic changes, which is becoming an increasing problem for doctors.
In chemotherapy, drug resistance is believed to be responsible for up to 90 per cent of treatment failures where there are secondary tumours.