New class of drugs to target cancer’s metabolism

September 21, 2015

In research published in Cancer Cell, Thomas Burris, Ph.D., chair of pharmacology and physiology at Saint Louis University, has, for the first time, found a way to stop cancer cell growth by targeting the Warburg Effect, a trait of cancer cell metabolism that scientists have been eager to exploit.

The Warburg effect is a cancer cell’s method of ramping up energy use in the form of glucose to make the chemicals required for their rapid growth.

Whereas traditional cancer research has targeted the genetic mutations in cancer cells, the new drug developed by Barris and colleagues at Scripps Research Institute can stop cancer cells by interfering with glycolysis and lipogenesis. When the cells don’t get the glucose or fat they need to reproduce they simply die.

And because the Warburg effect doesn’t affect normal cells, the drug targets only cancer cells and appears to be effective without causing weight loss, liver toxicity or inflammation.

In human tumors grown in animal models, Burris said, “It worked very well on lung, prostate, and colorectal cancers, and it worked to a lesser degree in ovarian and pancreatic cancers.”
It also seems to work on glioblastoma, an extremely difficult to treat form of brain cancer, though it isn’t able to cross the brain/blood barrier very effectively. The challenge for researchers in this scenario will be to find a way to allow the drug to cross this barrier, the body’s natural protection for the brain, which can make it difficult for drug treatments to reach their target.