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The BBC's Christine Stewart
"Trials in patients will now have to begin"
 real 56k

Dr Lesley Walker, Cancer Research Campaign
"This is a two pronged approach"
 real 56k

Professor Peter Begent
"This is worth exploring further on humans"
 real 28k

Friday, 15 June, 2001, 17:23 GMT 18:23 UK
Cancer 'cure' breakthrough
Lab work
Lab tests have produced promising results
British scientists are optimistic they have made a very significant breakthrough in the fight against cancer.

Laboratory tests of a two-pronged treatment involving a new drug and a sophisticated form of radiation therapy have produced startling results.

The combination therapy completely destroyed cancerous tumours in 85% of mice to whom it was administered.

This does not necessarily mean that we would be able to cure people, but it does make it worth exploring this further

Professor Richard Begent
And more than nine months after the treatment was stopped the animals were still clear of any sign of cancer.

The researchers, from the Royal Free Hospital, University College Medical School and the Gray Laboratory Cancer Research Trust now plan to carry out trials in humans.

Derived from bark

The new drug, Combretastatin (CA4P), is derived from the bark of an African bush willow.

It works by destroying the blood vessels that supply the tumours with vital nutrients.

However, it has no damaging effect on healthy tissue.

The destruction of the tumours is completed by attacking them with radiation carried into the cells by antibodies similar to those used by the body's immune system to destroy infection.

Essentially, the drug attacks the tumour from the inside out, while the radiotherapy attacks from the outside in.

In isolation, each treatment could never completely destroy all the cancer cells.

Long-term effect

But in tandem they are a potent force which the scientists believe can produce a "long-term cure."

The research was led by Professor Richard Begent, head of oncology at the Royal Free Hospital.

He told the BBC that normally even killing off a tumour's blood supply was not enough to destroy it because part of it was still sustained by the body's normal blood supply.

However, the radioactive antibodies used in the new treatment were able to starve the tumour of this supply too.

He said: "This does not necessarily mean that we would be able to cure people, but it does make it worth exploring this further and seeing if it can be of benefit to people with cancer."

Dr Lesley Walker, the Cancer Research Campaign's Director of Cancer Information, said: "This is the latest step in the very encouraging development of this drug for treating cancer.

"This good news confirms what we have been saying all along - that treatments that directly target cancers and spare normal tissue will be the cancer therapies of the future."

Dr Walker said that as well as proving to be an effective treatment, the combination therapy should also greatly reduce side-effects for the patient.

Approximately 200 patients with a variety of different cancers will be recruited to take part in the human trials.

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