Research conducted and patented by Dr Mark Howard at the University of Kent's School of Biosciences has led to the development of a new technique that will deliver cancer treatments directly to certain tumours.
One of the cancers this could have particular benefit in targeting is pancreatic cancer, which is currently very difficult to treat.
The technique, which was recently announced by Cancer Research Technology (CRT) -- Cancer Research UK's (CRUK) commercialisation and development arm -- involves cancer-targeting peptides (two or more linked amino acids) binding to a protein complex found in high levels on many tumour cells but absent in most normal tissues. By seeking out this protein and binding to it, the peptides can deliver cancer treatments directly to the site with increased precision and reduced side effects.
Aura Biosciences Inc, a US-based company that combines the expertise of leading US and European research institutions, has licensed the technique from CRT.
Dr Howard's role in this development involved identifying the shape of these peptides. He explained: 'These peptides have a particular three-dimensional shape enabling them to specifically target this tumour associated protein in a more effective way than ever observed before. We were able to model different peptide shapes and see a clear link between shape and effectiveness of the peptide.'
Dr Howard also explained that this technology has potential within tumour imaging and therapy for efficient identification and eradication of cancers.
Dr Phil L'Huillier, Director of Business Management at CRT, said: 'These peptides have the potential to seek out and destroy cancer cells, leaving the surrounding areas unharmed.
'We believe this technology could have particular strengths in delivering treatments for cancers that have limited treatment options, such as pancreatic and head and neck cancer. Crucially this targeted treatment could also reduce the side effects that are commonly associated with standard therapies. We look forward to the results of this programme with great interest.'
Dr Howard's research was conducted in collaboration with Dr John Marshall at the Institute of Cancer, Queen Mary London, and Dr Danielle DiCara at CRUK.
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