Researchers develop novel approach for design of drugs to treat breast cancer

Professor Sue Berners-Price and Dr Anil Gorle

Griffith University researchers have discovered a novel approach that could lead to the personalised design of anticancer drugs that resist metastasis (tumour spread) in triple-negative breast cancer.

Traditional chemotherapy includes metal-based drugs like Cisplatin, commonly used to treat breast and ovarian cancers. However, many of these traditional chemotherapies have severe side effects and cancers treated by these types of drugs are prone to drug resistance.

In a paper published in the journal Angewandte Chemie, researchers from the Institute for Glycomics in collaboration with researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University in the US, have proposed a completely unique approach to metal-based cancer therapy by way of protecting important signalling sugars on the surface of tumour cells, thereby preventing cancer metastasis.

Lead researcher Dr Anil Gorle said their approach was founded on the discovery that metastasis of triple-negative breast cancer cells can be halted by influencing the sugar language of the cancer using the platinum-based compound TriplatinNC, developed by joint co-author Professor Nicholas Farrell.

“This discovery paves the way for developing metal-based anti-cancer drugs with less side effects that could potentially avoid drug resistance,” Dr Gorle said.

“About 10-20% of breast cancers are triple-negative breast cancers and studies have shown that this form of breast cancer is more likely to spread beyond the breast and is also more likely to recur after treatment.”

Joint co-author of the study, Professor Sue Berners-Price, a world-leader in the field of medicinal inorganic chemistry, led the development of a new area of endeavour — metalloglycomics — a systematic study of the interaction of defined platinum-based compounds with sugars present on cell surfaces.

“It is important to target the fundamental pathways through which cancers spread to other parts of the body,” Professor Berners-Price said.

“This study showed that carbohydrate protection by platinum drugs is one such approach to develop anticancer drugs that will prevent metastasis by limiting the primary tumour to a relatively localised site and allow for effective drug intervention on that site.”

Director of the Institute for Glycomics and co-author, Professor Mark von Itzstein AO said, “The utility of the metalloglyomics concept in this study has provided the key to unlocking the door to new approaches to fight triple-negative breast cancers through the development of translational medicine.

“This could offer an alternative, less aggressive therapeutic approach to fighting the disease, as opposed to the more drastic approaches used today such as radiotherapy and chemotherapy.”