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Friday, 27 July, 2001, 17:09 GMT 18:09 UK
Cancer drug raises hopes of cure
Lab
Much more research will be needed
Scientists are developing a cancer drug that rapidly destroys tumours with no side effects.

Preliminary laboratory tests have produced some highly encouraging results.

However, experts have warned that a new treatment for patients is still a long way off.


The light of what we have discovered, I believe that cancer is curable

Professor Gerry Potter
Professor Gerry Potter and his team at Leicester's De Montfort University say a few granules of the drug can almost eradicate tumours in just 24 hours.

The drug is 10,000 times more toxic to cancerous cells than healthy ones.

The researchers hope to test it on terminally-ill patients in the next five years.

Enzyme

The drug, which could come in tablet form, only becomes toxic when it comes into contact with an enzyme found in cancer cells.

Professor Gerry Potter
Professor Gerry Potter has high hopes of the drug
This enzyme activates the drug, so that cancer cells are destroyed but surrounding healthy cells are untouched.

Conventional chemotherapy attacks both cancerous and healthy cells causing serious side effects.

Professor Potter said: "I never believed that cancer was a curable disease.

"Now in the light of what we have discovered, I believe that cancer is curable."

In laboratory tests the drug has proved to be effective against 95% of cancer cells - even tumours which are resistant to other forms of treatment.

It has destroyed breast, colon, lung, stomach, and brain cancer cells.

However, leukaemia - which does not contain the enzyme - has proved resistant.

More research needed

Professor Potter stressed it could be a decade before the drug reaches the market as many more tests will be needed.

He said: "Classical chemotherapy treatments are at best only twice as toxic to cancer cells as healthy ones.

"You can only give a patient so much before it damages normal tissue.

"Ours is up to 10,000 times as poisonous to cancer cells as it is to normal ones. It won't harm the body, that is the difference."

Dr Ken O'Byrne, a consultant and senior lecturer in oncology at the University of Leicester, said: "The way forward is in developing drugs that minimise side effects and that is the big advantage of what Professor Potter is doing.

"I don't think we can say at this stage it will cure all cancers but it is a big breakthrough."

An Imperial Cancer Research Fund spokesperson said: "This is interesting research which could produce promising results in the future.

"But we must be careful not to hype it up and raise cancer patients' expectations at this early stage.

"So far the drug has only been tested in the laboratory and, as the researchers themselves point out, is a long way from being trialled in patients, let alone proven as an effective mainstream treatment."

The research is published in the British Journal of Cancer.

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