New Australian 'assassin' drug has huge potential

Australian researchers have come up with a new drug which they believe has the potential to fight a wide range of illnesses and diseases including cancer, age-related blindness, heart disease and arthritis.

The super-drug called Dz13 works by switching off a master gene involved in each of these conditions.

Levon Khachigian, of the Centre for Vascular Research at the University of New South Wales, said the gene, known as c-Jun, is an important disease-causing gene and the experimental drug is designed to seek it out in diseased tissues.

Professor Khachigian, a molecular biologist, says it is like a secret agent that finds its target, c-Jun, within the cell and destroys it and is basically a 'molecular assassin'.

Professor Khachigian, says c-Jun stands out because little of it is seen in normal tissue but it is highly expressed in diseased blood vessels, eyes, lungs, joints, and in the gut and in any number of areas involving inflammation and aggressive vascular growth.

The first human test of the therapy, is planned for early next year, and will involve about 10 people with non-melanoma skin cancer.

The drug will apparently be injected into the tumours.

Professor Khachigian says animal tests showed the drug could significantly slow skin cancer growth by choking off the tumour's blood supply.

There is an acute need for better treatments for skin cancer because the main treatment at present involves surgery which can cause scarring and disfigurement.

Professor Bernard Stewart, head of South Eastern Sydney and Illawarra Health Service's cancer control program, says if the drug was proven to be effective against human skin cancer, it might also work against other solid cancers.

Professor Khachigian however says the safety of the new approach needed to be confirmed in people and treatments for patients were still years away.

Professor Denis Wakefield, head of the university's school of medical sciences, said Dz13 also had huge potential for the treatment of macular degeneration, as well as for diabetes-associated eye disease, as both conditions are caused by the abnormal growth of blood vessels.

He says another study that he recently published in the journal Nature Biotechnology also shows that Dz13 reduced inflammation and joint swelling in mice.

The team has also used the same gene-targeting approach, against a different master gene, it reduced tissue damage after a heart attack by 50 per cent in animals.

The research is published in Nature Biotechnology.

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