New drug targets lock-and-key mechanism of prostate cancer growth

Ganesh Raj led the UT team to develop the new class of drug.--Courtesy of UT Southwestern Medical Center

Researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center have developed a new class of drug that can hinder prostate cancer cells' ability to grow by targeting the lock-and-key mechanism that signals for it.

In a study published in Nature Communications, the researchers demonstrated a way by which they could disrupt the receptor pathway that signals to tumors it's time to grow. Androgen receptors on the tumor allow androgens such as testosterone to feed and promote growth, but Ganesh Raj and his team used a small protein-like chain to target these receptors and stop the androgens from binding.

Like a lock and key, the androgen receptor needs an androgen to "open," or perform a function, which in this case includes the rampant growth of the tumor. Some treatments aim at either the androgen or the receptor, but the new class of peptide-mimicking drugs attacks the receptor in a different spot from where the androgen binds, according to a university report, uncoupling the mechanism that allows them to signal proliferation in the first place. By canceling the signal, the key still opens the lock, so to speak, but the door doesn't open.

With funding from the Prostate Cancer Foundation, the Dorothy and James Cleo Thompson Foundation and the Robert A. Welch Foundation, the researchers hope to move into Phase I clinical trials soon.

"We are hopeful that this novel class of drugs will shut down androgen receptor signaling and lead to added options and increased longevity for men with advanced prostate cancer," Raj said in a statement, adding that the drug could extend prostate cancer survival rates beyond the current three or four months.

- here's the UT Southwestern release