Researchers at Michigan State University in East Lansing announced Wednesday their discovery of a chemical compound and potential new drug that has reduced the spread of melanoma cells by up to 90 percent.
The man-made small molecule drug goes after a bad cell’s ability to replicate RNA molecules and certain proteins in melanoma tumors, disrupting the transcription process that allows the cancer to grow. According to MSU officials, few medications have been capable of this previously.
“It’s been a challenge developing small-molecule drugs that can block this gene activity that works as a signaling mechanism known to be important in melanoma progression,” says Richard Neubig, a pharmacology professor at MSU and co-author of the study. “Our chemical compound is actually the same one that we’ve been working on to potentially treat the disease scleroderma, which now we’ve found works effectively on this type of cancer.”
Scleroderma is a rare and often fatal autoimmune disease that causes the hardening of skin tissue, as well as organs such as the lungs, heart, and kidneys. The same mechanisms that cause the skin to thicken also contribute to the spread of cancer.
Small-molecule drugs make up over 90 percent of the drugs on the market today and Neubig’s co-author Kate Appleton, a postdoctoral student, says the findings are an early discovery that could be highly effective in battling the deadly skin cancer. It’s estimated about 10,000 people die each year from the disease.
According to Neubig, when the disease is diagnosed early, melanoma’s mortality rate is around two percent, versus a late diagnosis, where chance of death is 84 percent.
Their findings were published in the January issue of Molecular Cancer Therapeutics.