New Drugs Can Make Chemotherapy More Effective

Targeting protein that helps cancer cells survive chemotherapy shows promise.

Targeting protein that helps cancer cells survive chemotherapy shows promise.

Combining new oncology drugs with chemotherapy to attack a protein that helps cancer cells survive can significantly enhance current treatments, a recent study indicates.

In a study published in Cancer Cell, researchers examined a network of proteins that activate when cancer cells are treated with the taxanes drug class, which commonly treat several cancer types, such as breast, ovarian, and prostate cancers. However, not all cancers respond to taxanes, which renders it difficult to predict the patients who will benefit from treatment.

The researchers evaluated the strength of the network across a range of cancers to determine why some are more susceptible to taxane-based chemotherapy and why others are more likely to be resistant.

The researchers specifically studied a protein called Bcl-xL, which helps cancer cells to survive by blocking the process that normally kills cells treated with chemotherapy drugs.

"This important research shows us there's potential to boost the cancer-fighting power of chemotherapy -- and do more with less,” study lead Professor Stephen Taylor said. "This new combination could 'soften-up' cancer cells, making it easier for chemotherapy to deliver the final blow and destroy the tumor. And the good news is that drugs targeting Bcl-xL are already out there and being tested in clinical trials. Using this combination of drugs could improve treatment for patients receiving taxanes and lower their chemotherapy dose, which would also help to reduce side effects."

There are already existing drugs available that block Bcl-xL. Combining these drugs with taxanes in the laboratory setting showed the combination killed significantly more cancer cells than treatment with taxanes alone.

"Predicting which patients will benefit most from chemotherapy is essential if we're going to make cancer treatments more effective and kinder,” said Emma Smith, MD, senior science information officer at Cancer Research UK. "In cases where chemotherapy doesn't seem to work straight away, we could add drugs that target Bcl-xL and hopefully see a real difference. It's still early days for this research but, if the results are confirmed in clinical trials, it has the potential to improve treatment for thousands of cancer patients."