Small cell lung cancer has a poor prognosis
Scientists have identified a drug which may offer hope to patients with a particularly lethal form of lung cancer.
The drug eliminated small cell lung cancer tumours in 50% of mice, and blocked the cells' ability to resist standard chemotherapy treatment.
The Imperial College London team now hope to test it in patients with an inoperable form of the disease.
Their study appears in the journal Cancer Research.
Lung cancer is a major killer, and the small cell version of the disease, which makes up 20% of total cases, has a particularly poor prognosis. Only around 3% of patients survive for five years.
The cancer spreads quickly, so surgery is not often an option.
Chemotherapy, sometimes supplemented with radiotherapy, often reduces the size of tumours, but they usually grow back rapidly, and become resistant to further treatment.
A growth hormone called FGF-2 appears to speed division of the cancer cells, and to trigger a survival mechanism which makes them resistant to chemotherapy.
PD173074 blocks FGF-2 from attaching to tumour cells. The researchers say it could potentially be taken as a pill, rather than fed into the body via a drip.
It was originally developed in 1998 to stop blood vessels from forming around tumours.
Further trials needed
Researcher Professor Michael Seckl said: "We urgently need to develop new treatments for this disease.
"We hope to take this drug, or a similar drug that also stops FGF-2 from working, into clinical trials next year to see if it is a successful treatment for lung cancer in humans."
Initially, the new drug was tested on cells taken from human tumours.
It stopped the cells proliferating, and neutralised their defences, allowing them to be killed off with standard chemotherapy.
Follow-up tests on mice showed the drug was effective against tumour cells, both in isolation, and in combination with the standard chemotherapy agent, cisplatin.
Dr Joanna Owens, of the charity Cancer Research UK, said: "It is encouraging to see potential new drugs for lung cancer in the initial stages of development.
"The early results from this study are impressive but we will need to wait for the results of clinical trials before we will know if the drugs could work for patients."