The deadly skin cancer, melanoma, will claim the lives of 10,130 people in the United States in 2016. There is a lot of interest in a new treatment that kills approximately 90% of melanoma cancer cells, an astounding accomplishment for Richard Neubig, MD, PhD, who serves as chairperson of pharmacology toxicology at Michigan State University.
The small-molecule drug compound attacks a gene's ability to produce RNA molecules and certain proteins in melanoma tumors. This gene activity causes the disease to spread, but the compound can shut it down.
“It’s been a challenge developing small-molecule drugs that can block this gene activity that works as a signaling mechanism known to be important in melanoma progression,” said Dr. Neubig, a co-author of the study that was first published in the January issue of Molecular Cancer Therapeutics. “Our chemical compound is actually the same one that we’ve been working on to potentially treat the disease scleroderma, which now we’ve found works effectively on this type of cancer.”
Scleroderma is an often fatal autoimmune disease that causes skin tissue to harden, as well as organs such as the lungs, heart and kidneys. The same mechanisms that produce skin thickening in scleroderma also contribute to the spread of cancer.
Through their research, Dr. Neubig and Kate Appleton, a postdoctoral student, along with their team, found that the compounds were able to stop proteins, called myocardin-related transcription factors (MRTFs) from initiating the gene transcription process in melanoma cells. These triggering proteins are initially switched on by another protein called Ras homology C, which is found in a signaling pathway that can cause the disease to aggressively spread in the body.
Considering new diagnoses of skin cancer will reach approximately 76,000 in the United States this year, this small-molecule drug is a promising new opportunity to cut down on the numbers of deaths. Prevention is a good strategy for more, but some people are more likely to be diagnosed because of their genetic predisposition, which is rare, but also deadly.