London | Scientists have synthesised a new drug that they say can treat melanoma, a highly aggressive form of skin cancer. The drug, known as HA15, reduces the viability of melanoma cells without being toxic for normal cells. Melanoma affects melanocytes, the cells responsible for the synthesis of melanin, which gives the skin its colour.
There are three stages of tumour progression: radial growth, in which the cells proliferate in a disordered manner in the epidermis; the vertical growth phase, which involves invasion of the dermis, and finally the metastatic phase, corresponding to the dissemination of the cancer cells in the peripheral tissues.
Although encouraging results have been obtained for treating the metastatic phase (using targeted therapies or immunotherapies), most patients will need additional treatments to prevent the tumour from coming back, and to prevent more metastases from developing.
The identification of new drug candidates is therefore an unavoidable element for the establishment of effective biotherapies against this cancer, the incidence of which is doubling every ten years.
Researchers led by Stephane Rocchi from University of Nice Sophia Antipolis discovered a new family of drugs, the Thiazole Benzensulfonamides (TZB), which have useful anticancer properties. Initially this family of drugs was identified in type 2 diabetes, as it increased the sensitivity of cells to insulin, said Stephane Rocchi.
If we wanted to use it against cancer, we had to be able to eliminate this proinsulin activity. Thus we started to modify its structure, Rocchi said. After many attempts, the initial TZD structure was extensively modified to obtain a formulation in which the lead compound was called HA15.
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