USC scientists unveiled a newly discovered drug to treat ovarian cancer on Sept. 17 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the university announced Tuesday.
The drug is expected to decrease the number of doses a patient must take and make medicine more effective for patients whose cancer has developed a drug resistance.
The drug is a member of a class of cytotoxic agents known as PACMA. Graduate student Alexey N. Butkevich, a co-author of the study, synthesized more than 80 newly created compounds in the lab with co-author Nicos A. Petasis, a professor of chemistry at the USC Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. Additional co-authors of the study included Nouri Neamati, a professor of pharmacology and pharmaceutical sciences at the USC School of Pharmacy, Roppei Yamada, Yu Zhou, Bikash Debnath and Professors Roger Duncan and Ebrahim Zandi.
[Correction: A previous version of this story did not state that Nicos A. Petasis, professor of chemistry, is a lead researcher of this study along with Neamati. A previous version of this story also incorrectly stated that Butkevich worked in Neamati’s lab.]
The researchers eventually found that PACMA31 was highly toxic to ovarian cancer.
PACMA31 interrupts the folding process that shapes proteins and allows them to function properly. The build-up of these incorrectly folded proteins places stress on the cells and eventually causes them to die.
As this strategy is different than that of the two leading drugs in the treatment of ovarian cancer, PACMA31 provides new hope for patients who do not respond to the usual treatments of paclitaxel and cisplatin.
[Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that antibiotics are typically used to treat ovarian cancer.]
Though the drug has not been tested on humans yet, Neamati said that PACMA31 could change the future of cancer treatment.
“When the patient has no other choice, we could potentially treat them with our drug,” Neamati said in a statement.
PACMA31 accumulates within cancer cells, meaning it is less likely than other drugs to cause detrimental side effects in normal tissues. Once PACMA31 latches onto its mark, it stays there permanently until the protein has been degraded.
Prior to its unveiling, the drug was tested in the lab on ovarian cancer cells and mice tumors, where it was determined to be nontoxic and successful at halting tumor growth.
Shili Xu, a graduate student who worked on the project, described the drug’s relevance to medicine in the press release.
“We need a new generation of drugs,” Xu said. “We need to overcome the drug-resistance issue.”