Researchers target breast cancer's energy supply

In collaboration with the Press Association

Blocking the energy supply of tumours could provide a new treatment for breast cancer, lab research suggests.

Scientists Dr Jeremy Blaydes and Dr Ali Tavassoli at the University of Southampton found they could stop the fuel supply to breast cancer cells using molecules called cyclic peptide inhibitors.

Dr Blaydes, who is funded by the Breast Cancer Campaign, said: "Because this is an entirely new approach to treatment, the drugs we are developing could be effective against breast cancers that have become resistant to current chemotherapies.

"Unfortunately, despite great improvements in breast cancer treatment in recent years, chemotherapy-resistance eventually happens in around one in five cases, and every year in the UK around 12,000 women still die from the disease.

"To overcome this resistance, innovative treatments that use new approaches to stop cancer from growing are desperately needed."

Researchers have known for many years that cancer cells produce energy and use sugar slightly differently from healthy cells.

In breast cancer the process involves proteins called CtBPs sticking together to form pairs inside the cell. These in turn help the cells to multiply.

Dr Tavassoli's team, funded by Cancer Research UK, developed a series of chemicals designed to block CtBP pairs from forming.

In collaboration with Dr Blayde's lab they then selected the most effective chemical, called CP61, which they are now developing into more drug-like molecules, which may one day be used for treatment of breast cancer.

Dr Blaydes added: "What makes this discovery even more exciting as a potential treatment is that CtBPs are mostly only active in the cancer cells, so blocking this 'sweet tooth' should cause less damage to normal cells and fewer side effects than existing treatments.

"This work is at an early stage in the laboratory but it is really exciting as it has the potential to deliver a completely new kind of cancer drug."

Dr Tavassoli’s team also recently discovered a cyclic peptide that stops cancer cells from adapting to scarce oxygen environments.

Dr Tavassoli said: "This work continues to demonstrate the power and utility of our high-throughput screening platform, funded by Cancer Research UK, for discovering inhibitors of targets that had been considered undruggable."

Cancer Research UK's science information manager Henry Scowcroft said cyclic peptides "are emerging as an exciting way to probe parts of cancer biology other molecules can't reach".

But he added: "While they're useful in the lab, they can't be taken as a simple tablet and it's difficult to get them into cells in the patient's body.

"So there's a way to go before this fascinating research can translate into benefits for patients."

The research is published in the journal Chemical Science.

Copyright Press Association 2013


  • Birts C.N. et al. (2013). A cyclic peptide inhibitor of C-terminal binding protein dimerization links metabolism with mitotic fidelity in breast cancer cells, Chemical Science, 4 (8) 3046. DOI: