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Scientists find new way to ‘track’ response to cancer drugs

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by Cancer Research UK | News

1 January 2009

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Scientists have found a new way of accurately measuring the success of experimental cancer drugs, according to a study published in Cancer Research* today (Thursday).

The researchers, funded by Cancer Research UK and the Medical Research Council, have developed a new imaging technique that can determine the levels of cancer drugs in normal and cancerous tissue.

A major challenge in drug development is finding the most effective dose – one that is high enough to kill cancer cells without being toxic to healthy cells.

Around 40 per cent of new anti-cancer drugs fail at the early stages because they are eliminated too quickly from the body or do not reach the blood. But scientists have found that the levels of drug in cancer tissue can determine how effective the drug is.

Professor Eric Aboagye, lead author of the study from Imperial College London, said: “This new technique will be a significant boost to scientists who work in drug discovery. Being able to accurately measure levels of a drug in different tissues, and understanding how this changes with different doses and schedules of the drug is crucial. We hope this will significantly reduce the costs of drug discovery – deciding to stop researching drugs that will be ineffective at an early stage could cut overall costs for drug discovery by up to 7 per cent.”

The new technique will use an imaging method called PET, or Positron Emission Tomography. A mildly radioactive tracer is attached to the cancer drug and injected into the patient. A mathematical formula is then used to calculate the levels of the drug in the patient’s blood and tissue.

Dr Lesley Walker, director of cancer information at Cancer Research UK, said: “Imaging is an invaluable tool in the fight against cancer. Being able to see what’s happening inside patients is vitally important in understanding how treatments are currently working and the best ways to improve them.

“Cancer Research UK has identified imaging research as a priority and we have recently invested £50 million over the next five years in partnership with other funding bodies to help us achieve our aim of improving the detection, diagnosis and treatment of cancer.”


For media enquiries please contact the Cancer Research UK press office on 020 7061 8300 or, out-of-hours, the duty press officer on 07050 264 059.