University of Manchester researchers are investigating exactly how chemotherapy drugs kill cancerous tumours in a bid to reduce side effects and test the effectiveness of safer new agents.
Dr Stephen Taylor and Karen Gascoigne at the University of Manchester's Faculty of Life Sciences have taken a new systematic approach to studying anti-mitotic drugs, which are used extensively for breast or ovarian cancer in the UK.
This class of drugs, which includes the agent taxol, has been used clinically for many years because they are highly effective. However, as in all chemotherapy, there are side effects. In the case of taxol these include peripheral neuropathies which can lead to permanent nerve damage and loss of sensation in fingers.
In addition little is known about how anti-mitotic drugs work, despite a lot of research on them, because many studies were population-based approaches that were indirect and led to vague and confusing interpretations.
Dr Taylor said: "To bypass the neurotoxicity, new anti-mitotics are being generated. Early clinical studies show that these drugs do not result in significant neurotoxicity. The big question now is whether they will have anti-tumour effects.
"To help determine this, we need to know which types of tumours are likely to be sensitive to these new agents, and which ones are likely to be resistant. This would allow clinicians to better design the clinical trials, i.e. you only recruit patients who are likely to respond. In addition, if the drugs show promise, then it would pave the way for patient stratification in the future, again allowing oncologists to identify which patients are likely to benefit from these drugs in advance of treatment.
"To predict which types of tumours are likely to respond, we first need to know how anti-mitotic drugs work, both the classical drugs and these new agents."