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Drug under development, effective in preventing metastasis in cancer

The Vall d’Hebron Research Institute (VHIR) has demonstrated in animal models the effectiveness of a drug to prevent the development of metastasis in two childhood tumors, neuroblastoma and rhabdomyosarcoma, and in breast cancer, although still need to determine which subtypes it will work on.

Metastases are responsible for more than 90% of cancer deaths, but so far there are very few specific therapies to prevent the spread of malignant cells throughout the body.

The study, published this Wednesday in the magazine “Cellular and Molecular Life Sciences”offers a possible new therapeutic strategy that has been shown to be effective in mice, with the expectation that the results will soon be corroborated by a clinical trial in humans.

Inhibitor of a key protein in the development of metastasis

The protagonist is the drug RA08, developed by VHIR and the biotechnology company BCN Peptides, which acts as an inhibitor of a protein, integrin alpha9 (ITGA9), which is key in the development of metastasis.

In mice, researchers have observed that between 50 and 70% of the treated animals did not develop metastases from two of the most common childhood cancers: neuroblastoma, which occurs when tumors appear in nerve tissue, and rhabdomyosarcoma, when they originate in tissues soft, like muscles.

For breast cancer, researchers have not seen complete reductions but a decrease in the intensity of metastasis, with 50% fewer foci.

The three tumors have in common high survival rates, which however decrease greatly when patients develop metastases.

“The drug is designed to prevent the formation of metastases, not to treat those that have already developed, so it would be more of a preventive treatment,” emphasized the principal researcher of the Cancer and Hematological Children’s Diseases group of the VHIR, Josep Roma.

The VHIR researcher pointed out that it was not observed no side effects of the drug in mice, so if this low toxicity is confirmed in humans, it could be used for any patient of these two types of childhood cancer studied, in order to prevent metastasis and reduce mortality.

But above all, he pointed out, it would be indicated for patients with certain subtypes of tumors that are already known in advance to have a high probability of metastasis.

With regard to breast cancer, Roma has indicated that, based on observations in mice, it may constitute an “interesting” strategy for preventing metastasis, although he has pointed out that studies are lacking to determine in which subtypes of tumors it would work.

The same with tumors of a different nature: “The results have come out so well that we are convinced that it can be transferred to other cancers, children or adults, but we need more time to be able to investigate”, emphasized Roma.

This research was started thanks to the aid of TV3’s La Marató program in 2009 and later had aid from ACCIÓ/FEDER (RIS3CAT) and the Carlos III Health Institute.

The Albert Bosch Foundation, from the association El meu compan de viatte, the Abidal Foundation and the association Tot per tu have also collaborated.

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