Accidental fungus leads to promising cancer drug

Monday, June 30th, 2008

Accidental fungus leads to promising cancer drug — after some polymers are added:

The drug was known experimentally as TNP-470, and was originally isolated from a fungus called Aspergillus fumigatus fresenius.

Harvards’s Donald Ingber discovered the fungus by accident while trying to grow endothelial cells — the cells that line blood vessels. The mold affected the cells in a way known to prevent the growth of tiny blood vessels known as capillaries.

Ingber and Folkman developed TNP-470 with the help of Takeda Chemical Industries in Japan in 1990.

But the drug affected the brain, causing depression, dizziness and other side-effects. It also did not stay in the body long and required constant infusions. The lab dropped it.

Efforts to improve it did not work well. Then Benny and colleagues tried nanotechnology, attaching two “pom-pom”-shaped polymers to TNP-470, protecting it from stomach acid.

In mice, the altered drug, now named lodamin, went straight to tumor cells and helped suppress melanoma and lung cancer, with no apparent side effects, Benny said.

All untreated mice had fluid in the abdominal cavity, and enlarged livers covered with tumors. Mice treated with lodamin had normal-looking livers and spleens, the researchers said.

Twenty days after being injected with cancer cells, four out of seven untreated mice had died, while all treated mice were still alive, Benny’s team reported.

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