A team of researchers say they have made a major breakthrough at the University of Hawaii Cancer Center.
The scientists have designed a drug that stops the development of many different types of cancers.
The research started with a computer program that modeled how thousands of different drug compounds would interact with a particular protein called Stat 3. Stat 3 is normally found in cells but can cause abnormal cell growth when it goes haywire and starts binding with other proteins.
"It is the haywire, dysfunctional form of the protein that causes cancer. If we turn it off, we remove its effect from causing cancer," said Dr. James Turkson, with the UH Cancer Center.
Based on the computer models, Dr. Turkson's team started testing the best-fitting designer drug in mice. What they found was very encouraging. The drug stopped the proteins from binding together, which in turn shrank the tumors.
But what the drug did not do was just as important.
"It did not affect the overall well-being of mice as it inhibited the human tumors in them," said Dr. Turkson.
Unlike conventional cancer treatments that can pump chemicals through the entire body -- which have a major impact on the health of patients -- the latest molecular therapy targets only certain bad cells.
"Molecular-targeted therapy focused on the cells relevant to cancer and left out the normal cells," stated Dr. Turkson.
The drug was just as effective taken orally as it was injected. That is an important point for patients, both in cost and convenience.
"One of the best things about oral medication is the patient doesn't need to be in the hospital setting," added Turkson.
There have been nearly three years of research and testing and there is still much more work to be done but many at the UH research facility are excited about this important step in the fight against cancer.
Before human trials will take place on the drug, it will go through more testing on larger animals to determine effectiveness and toxicity levels.
Dr. Turkson estimated it will be at least 10 years before the new designer drug will be available to cancer patients.