Anti-tumour drug

Tuesday, 25 September, 2001

An anti-tumour drug called AQ4N, which destroys tumour cells that other anti-cancer treatments cannot reach, is undergoing clinical trials at Leicester's Royal Infirmary and Oxford's Churchill Hospital, England.

The drug works by destroying only the oxygen-starved (hypoxic) cells that exist in tumours. These are difficult to eradicate by conventional treatment methods but form up to 30% of any tumour. The higher the percentage of hypoxic cells, the worse the prognosis is for the patient.

AQ4N is a result of 10 years research by Dr Stephanie McKeown of Ulster University's Radiation Science team in Northern Ireland. ''Laboratory tests indicate that AQ4N is likely to be effective against hypoxic cells in any solid tumour,'' said Dr McKeown. ''We are confident that the drug will enhance the effectiveness of contemporary anti-cancer treatments, for it can reach and destroy hypoxic tumour cells that are resistant to radiation and existing chemotherapy techniques.'' Dr McKeown says the drug has a double advantage. The oxygen-starved cells targeted by AQ4N are also prime suspects in the development of more malignant and aggressive secondary cancers.

''When oxygen-rich cancer cells are killed using radiotherapy or conventional chemotherapy, the previous dormant hypoxic cells may then cause regrowth of the tumour into a more malignant, aggressive and treatment-resistant cancer. That is why it is so important to kill off the cells and why we are so excited about the potential of AQ4N,'' said Dr McKeown.

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