New experimental drug shows signs of success in cancer treatment

By Maggie Kolchina - World Healthcare Journal

An experimental drug treatment known as Berzosertib has shown promising results in a recent trial, stopping cancer growth in half of the patients who participated.

Berzosertib, which is an ATR inhibitor, works by blocking DNA repair - effectively preventing cancer cells from growing larger or repairing themselves. The drug belongs to a new family of treatment, known as precision medicine, where it targets DNA repair in the tumour with little or no effect on the healthy cells.

A team of specialists at the Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) and the Royal Marsden NHS Trust have been conducting the trials to test the drug’s safety and tolerability.

40 patients with different types of advanced tumours have participated in the trials, where they were exposed to the drug alone or with chemotherapy.

According to the researchers, the results seemed “very promising” - in 20 patients, the treatment halted the tumour’s growth completely and two patients saw their tumours shrink and/or disappear.

The researchers have also observed that, when used with chemotherapy, the tumour’s susceptibility to Berzosertib significantly increased. In 15 out of the 21 patients who were given the drug alongside chemotherapy, the tumours became less aggressive and showed signs of stabilization.

So far, only one side effect has been detected - thrombocytopenia, a condition where patients experience low levels of blood platelets. However, as this trial is still in the first phase, researchers may find more side effects in a wider, more diverse cohort of patients at later stages.

"This study involved only small numbers of patients. Therefore, it is too early to consider Berzosertib a game-changer in cancer treatment," said Dr Darius Widera at the University of Reading in an interview with BBC News.

"Nevertheless, the unusually strong effects of Berzosertib, especially in combination with conventional chemotherapy, give reasons to be optimistic regarding the outcomes of follow-up studies."

The ICR has also confirmed that Berzosertib is now moving into the next stages of clinical trials to further test antitumor activity and explore other potential applications and benefits of the drug.

One of the biggest challenges of cancer treatment and research today is acquired resistance to drugs, where tumours evolve and become less and less sensitive to targeted therapies. The promising responses to the drug during the trial has suggested that it could be one of the strategies to help overcome resistance to inhibitors and other precision treatments.

In the future, Berzosertib could also be used to "boost the effectiveness of treatments like chemotherapy” according to Johann de Bono, a professor in Experimental Cancer Medicine at ICR, or as a less aggressive substitute for the treatment if given on its own.

In addition to cancer treatment, Berzosertib’s ability to inhibit activity in the CHK1 signalling pathway could potentially be used in treating coronaviruses, as many types of coronavirus enter the body and multiply via the same signalling pathway.

Vaithilingaraja Arumugaswami, Professor of Molecular & Medical Pharmacology at the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine, and his team are currently in the process of developing clinical trials to test the drug’s effectiveness against coronavirus, and to eventually “bring the therapeutic benefit to a diverse population, especially to those in underserved communities. ” 

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