Normal body cells that have reached the end of their useful life go through a programmed path to self-destruction. The pathway is well known in normal tissue and is called apoptosis. Cancer cells do not naturally undergo apoptosis but Professor Henning Walczak from the University College Liverpool Cancer Institute and colleagues have developed a method to cause lung cancer cells to commit suicide. The results of the research were reported in an Oct. 31, 2014, press release that predates the presentation of the discovery at the National Cancer Research Institute Cancer Conference.
The scientists first identified a protein called Cyclin-dependent kinase 9 (CDK9) as a major inhibitor of an experimental lung cancer drug named TRAIL (Tumor necrosis factor-related apoptosis-inducing ligand). The TRAIL drug has been designed to produce apoptosis in lung cancer. TRAIL was developed to specifically target the most deadly form of lung cancer called non-small cell lung cancer.
The combination of a CDK9-inhibitor drug with the TRAIL drug caused lung cancer cells to self-destruct. The major limitation of the TRAIL drug previously was the limited kill ratio the drug had on active lung cancer cells. The combination of the two drugs produced a near 100 percent death of lung cancer cells in mice that had lung cancer.
The researchers plan for trials of the same combination of drugs on other forms of cancer. The scientists also plan on extended trials of the drug combination in people that have lung cancer. The objective is the complete elimination of lung cancer in 75 percent of the world’s population that have lung cancer in the next 20 years.