Antibiotic could provide new cancer treatment

In collaboration with the Press Association

Early laboratory research has suggested that a little-known antibiotic could one day be used to treat cancer, scientists have said.

The drug, known as siomycin A, seems to be able to block the activity of a gene that is overactive in most human tumours, said the University of Illinois researchers.

The FoxM1 gene is responsible for turning on the rapid cell division that is characteristic of cancer, while simultaneously turning off the body's natural safeguards against this division.

Siomycin A was able to inhibit this process by blocking FoxM1 however, while appearing to leave other cell functions unchanged.

Further research showed that siomycin A appeared to be able to induce cancer cells to commit suicide.

"This is early research, and there is a long way to go before it will benefit cancer patients. Despite being discovered in the 1960s, siomycin A is a relatively poorly understood antibiotic," said Henry Scowcroft, senior information officer at Cancer Research UK.

"Scientists will have to thoroughly test it and then evaluate it in long-term clinical trials, to make sure it is safe and effective."

Only a tiny fraction of promising candidate drugs enter clinical trials, and few of those are ever approved.

The study is published in the journal Cancer Research.