Researchers trial "next generation" drugs

In collaboration with the Press Association

Researchers have launched trials of what they described as the "next generation" of drugs, designed to fight cancer and other diseases.

The research from the University of South Wales, Australia, targets a regulator gene known as c-Jun that is thought to be a factor in heart disease and some forms of skin cancer and blindness.

In early-stage laboratory testing the treatment has already proved successful in treating some forms of skin cancer and in reducing damage following heart attacks.

"c-Jun is an important disease-causing gene," said lead researcher professor Levon Khachigian, a molecular biologist.

"It stands out because we don't see much of it in normal tissue but it is highly expressed in diseased blood vessels, eyes, lungs, joints, and in the gut ? in any number of areas involving inflammation and aggressive vascular growth.

"Our experimental drug, Dz13, is like a secret agent that finds its target, c-Jun, within the cell and destroys it," he said. "It is a specific, pre-programmed 'molecular assassin.'"

The drug effectively halts the disease in its tracks by finding the regulator gene and blocking it so that the illness is unable to progress.

"This drug seems to effectively target c-Jun, an important molecule linked to cancer and other diseases," said Cancer Research UK's cancer information officer Dr Julie Sharp.

"But c-Jun is involved in many cellular processes so clinical trials are essential to test if the drug is safe and effective in patients.

"The small trial planned for skin cancer patients will provide useful data but this is still only a small step - it can take up to 10 years for a drug like this to be fully tested and considered safe for use."

The research is published in the journal Nature Biotechnology.