Researchers at Duquesne Universityhave developed new, nontoxic, anti-tumor compounds which may offer such great promise for fighting hard-to-treat tumors that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has placed them on its fast track for development.

These novel agents fight breast and other cancers that become resistant to paclitaxel (Taxol?, Bristol-Myers Squibb Company) and other medications. Preliminary data show that the compounds kill tumor cells without toxicity to normal cells?avoiding the sickness that accompanies most existing cancer-fighters.

“One of the limitations of current cancer treatment is drug toxicity; it necessitates discontinuation of the drug, even if it is effective,” Aleem Gangjee, Ph.D, Distinguished Professor of Medicinal Pharmacy at Duquesne University’s Mylan School of Pharmacy, said. “Because our compounds are not expected to sicken patients and normal cells, it could be continued without toxicity.”

Fast track
The National Institutes of Health’s National Cancer Institute checks hundreds of promising compounds and those showing the greatest potential are fast tracked. Three compounds from Gangjee and his team are in this category.

Trojan horses
These water-soluble compounds are easy to make and inhibit tumor cells at low concentrations. The agents are like Trojan horses, effective at tricking cancer cells into accepting them as a building block used to feed tumors.

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With more than 1.5 million new cases of cancer diagnosed a year, these compounds could positively impact many lives. Gangjee, who holds four concurrent NIH grants, has received more than 25 patents in 20 years of research at Duquesne, including a recent patent for treatment of ovarian cancer. Ovarian, lung and pancreatic cancers are difficult to detect until later stages?and this drug works particularly well in late-stage treatment, unlike many current therapies.

During the past 40 years, Gangjee’s research has sprung from the inspiration of his family’s own experience. When Gangjee was 20 years old, his grandmother died from breast cancer. The loss turned Gangjee away from a corporate future as an industrial chemist and propelled him into medicinal chemistry and a career focused on fighting cancer.

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