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Nottingham scientist builds Phortress against breast cancer

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by Cancer Research UK | News

28 October 2002

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A new type of anti-cancer drug with a unique mechanism that selectively targets breast cancer cells will enter clinical trials in the New Year, a leading Cancer Research UK scientist announced.

The drug – called Phortress – takes advantage of particular molecular features of cancer cells and may be effective in up to a quarter of breast cancers, as well as many ovarian cancers, Professor Malcolm Stevens revealed at the charity’s first annual conference in Warwickshire.

He believes it should be possible to test tumours for their susceptibility to the drug, allowing doctors to accurately identify women who are most likely to respond.

Professor Stevens, who is Director of the Cancer Research UK group at Nottingham University, said: “In the past doctors tended to have a ‘suck it and see’ attitude to clinical trials for new drugs, without having a clear idea which cancers they would be likely to work against.

“But with Phortress, we have a series of tests which should tell us exactly who will benefit, allowing us to treat women with genuine expectation rather than blind hope”, he explained.

Phortress is injected in the bloodstream and only becomes active when switched on by an enzyme found in many forms of breast cancer, causing lethal DNA damage. While the drug is unlikely to be entirely free of side effects, it seems to attack cancer cells much more selectively than conventional chemotherapy.

Unlike tamoxifen, the drug does not rely on the presence of of the oestrogen receptor, meaning that it could be effective in many of the 40 per cent of breast cancers which are oestrogen receptor negative.

Sir Paul Nurse, Chief Executive of Cancer Research UK, said: “This is a drug which has been funded, devised and developed by Cancer Research UK scientists, led by Prof Stevens, the man who also brought us the charity’s brain cancer and melanoma drug, Temozolomide.

“We will be carrying out patient trials under the direction of Prof Hilary Calvert in Newcastle and are optimistic that the drug will live up to the expectations set by the results in the lab so far.”

Prof Stevens added: “I’m excited by the progress of the drug so far, although it’s important to stress that it will take several more years for clinical trials to be completed.”