University of Pittsburgh
February 11, 2007

Pitt Researchers Create Anticancer Molecule 10-to-100 Times More Powerful Than Leading Treatment

Process of developing potent synthetic molecule published in Journal of the American Chemical Society
Contact:  412-624-4147

PITTSBURGH-A University of Pittsburgh research team created a synthetic anticancer molecule remarkably more powerful than current cancer drugs that could, once fully developed, offer an alternative to people whose cancer does not respond to available medication. The "Journal of the American Chemical Society" published the researchers' account of developing the molecule, known as meayamycin, online Feb. 6 with the print version to come out next month. More testing is needed to perfect meayamycin, but the project's lead investigator is optimistic that the powerful molecule will yield an effective treatment.

Meayamycin stops cancer cells from dividing, much like the leading drug paclitaxel (sold as Taxol), except that in lab tests meayamycin did the job in lower concentrations, said principal investigator Kazunori Koide (Ko-ee-deh), an assistant professor of chemistry in Pitt's School of Arts and Sciences. Meayamycin packed the same punch as doses of commonly used drugs, like Taxol, but was 10-to-100 times stronger, he said. People might then need less meayamycin to get the same effect of current treatment dosages, thus helping to rein in treatment costs and possibly produce fewer side effects, Koide said.

Furthermore, meayamycin does not attach itself to a patient's DNA or the usual protein targets within cells as current cancer drugs do, Koide added. Some cancer does not respond to these currently available treatments, he said; meayamycin may present cancer patients with another option.

"Cancer is a lot more complicated than most diseases," Koide said. "There are hundreds of causes of cancer at the genetic level. It's impossible for any single cancer drug to work in everyone. But if there are no options available when a treatment fails, a person is left with nothing."

In tests, meayamycin successfully worked against breast and cervical cancer cells as well as those from multidrug resistant cancers, Koide said. It is based on a compound developed by a Japanese company to combat colon and lung cancer as well as leukemia. Meayamycin most likely works against those cancers, too, since the differences between it and the Japanese parent molecule are subtle except for meayamycin's greater potency, Koide said.

For now, Koide revels in the major breakthrough of creating the molecule, a taxing six-year project supported by the National Institutes of Health.

"All new therapies start with new compounds made or isolated by chemists," Koide said. "The chemistry requires a lot of intellectual curiosity, patience, and dedication, and that has worked out so far. We have the blueprint to go from here to the end."