Finding new targets for anticancer drugs is a high priority for cancer researchers. Any time they see a new possibility, they check it out.
Scientists have been looking into a molecule in the body called STAT3 for several years. STAT3 can be double trouble because it both promotes tumor growth and shields cancer from the immune system.
|Michael Hedvat studied a possible new anticancer drug target. (Photo by Darrin S. Joy)|
But the molecule can only do this if it's activated. What activates it? It might be a protein called JAK2, short for Janus kinase 2. If so, tackling JAK2 could be a new way to treat cancer.
Normally, JAK2 acts as a helper, activating other proteins that regulate a cell’s functions. Scientists know JAK2 also has a hand in several diseases involving abnormal blood cell growth. And some of these can lead to blood cancers.
That got the attention of researchers in City of Hope’s Beckman Research Institute. They knew about a drug already being tested in clinical studies for some of those blood diseases.
The investigational drug, called AZD1480, was designed to interfere with JAK2. The City of Hope researchers wanted to know if it could keep JAK2 from activating cancer-friendly STAT3.
In the lab, they applied the drug to tumor cells with high levels of activated STAT3. The results were promising.
“When we added AZD1480 to the cells, we saw a big drop in the levels of activated STAT3,” said Michael Hedvat, a former graduate student in the Irell & Manella Graduate School of Biological Sciences.
The finding confirmed that JAK2 is key to activating STAT3 and opened the door to new treatment possibilities.
“The connection between JAK2 and STAT3 now gives us more possible targets that we can develop drugs against,” said Richard Jove, Ph.D., holder of the Morgan and Helen Chu Director’s Chair, director of Beckman Research Institute and professor in the Department of Molecular Medicine.
Because AZD1480 is already in clinical studies for other diseases, the research team hopes to see it in clinical trials aimed at breast, prostate, colon and other similar cancers soon.
AZD1480 was created by British pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca.