Chemical panacea

Could researchers in Australia have developed a pharmaceutical panacea to beat all those herbal remedies offered in a multitude of spam emails and websites that claim to cure everything. They are working pre-clinical models of a new class of drug that could treat a range of problems from inflammation and cancer to eye and heart disease.

Certain types of skin cancers, age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and diabetic retinopathy are likely to be among the first uses for the drug, which has already shown efficacy in pre-clinical models.

“This may be a ‘one-size fits all’ therapy, because it targets a master regulator gene called c-Jun which appears to be involved in all of these diseases,” explains Levon Khachigian, of the Centre for Vascular Research (CVR), at the University of New South Wales. “c-Jun is an important disease-causing gene,” adds Khachigian. “It stands out because we don’t see much of it in normal tissue but it is highly expressed in diseased blood vessels, eyes, lungs, joints, and in the gut – in any number of areas involving inflammation and aggressive vascular growth.

The experimental drug they are testing goes by the enigmatic name of Dz13, and with equal enigma behaves like a secret agent finding its target, c-Jun, and killing it point blank. “It is a specific, pre-programmed ‘molecular assassin’,” says Khachigian.

He and colleagues report full details in Nature Biotechnology this month. The next step will be to test the drug in a small human trial on non-melanoma skin cancers. “If such a trial were successful, it would be a significant development given the high rates of skin cancer and because the main treatment currently is surgical excision, which can cause scarring,” said Khachigian.

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