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Skin cancer drug targets key ‘growth gene’ with potential to treat many other diseases

 
ACRF
ACRF
May 1, 2013

A world-first human trial of a new drug has shown promising results in shrinking the most common type of skin cancer, basal-cell carcinoma.

The treatment targets a key gene, the “c-jun” gene, which is present in all of us and when overactive, it can lead to skin cancers and other conditions including macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy.

“It’s a pivotal growth gene, or survival gene,” said Professor Khachigian from the University of NSW.

“We don’t always know why it gets switched on, except in basal-cell carcinomas where we know sunlight turns it on.”

But this new drug treatment, called Dz13, has shown it can not only shrink the cancers triggered by this gene, but encourage the body’s own immune system to join the fight.

“[Turning off the gene] sends the tumour into a death spiral which then triggers the body’s own natural inflammatory and immune system to go into battle and shrink the tumour.”

The Australian cancer scientists involved in the study, working at the University of NSW, the University of Sydney and RPA Hospital, hope that subsequent trials will show larger doses of Dz13, over an extended period of time, reveal even more positive results for patients.

If these next test stages are successful, we might expect to see this new therapy being used as a treatment for skin cancers within three years.

While there are existing treatments options that effectively treat basal-cell carcinomas (which rarely metastasise) Dz13  has the potential to ease the existing treatment process and complicated surgeries.

Cancer research is about progressing treatment, diagnosis and prevention so that cancer patients and their families have every chance of defeating this terrible disease. Having funded more than $86 million in grants towards these ends, we at the Australian Cancer Research Foundation are thrilled to hear of this latest discovery by Australian research teams.

A phase I trial in skin melanoma (a more dangerous type of skin cancer) is expected to begin within the month, while future research, according to Professor Khachigian, will also likely include testing for macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy.

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