A NEW drug which could tackle the highly aggressive “triple negative” breast cancer has been developed, thanks to work by a North-East researcher.


Dr Ahmed Faheem, a senior lecturer in pharmaceutics at the University of Sunderland, has been working on the potential new drug with Professor Mohamed El-Tanani, at the University of Bradford’s Institute for Cancer Therapeutics.

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Prof El-Tanani discovered the peptide drug which blocks a protein, known as RAN, which helps cancer cells divide and grow and the team, which also includes Ulster University, and Queens University Belfast, has developed a nanoparticle to help deliver it directly into cancer cells.


Prof El-Tanani said: “We knew we’d need a novel delivery mechanism for this drug because peptides on their own are unstable and they can degrade too quickly to be effective.


“Using a nanoparticle as a delivery mechanism was the perfect solution.”


Laboratory tests showed that when this nanoparticle, loaded with the peptide, was added to the triple negative breast cancer cells, the cells would actively take it in.


Their growth rate then reduced, they stopped replicating and around two thirds of the cells died within 24 hours.


This compared with the peptide on its own, or an empty nanoparticle, which had no impact on the cells’ growth.


High levels of RAN have been linked to aggressive tumour growth, cancer spread, resistance to chemotherapy and poor prognosis in a number of cancers, including triple negative breast cancer


Between ten and 20 per cent of breast cancers are found to be triple negative, which means the cancer does not have receptors for certain hormones which means it limits the number of treatment which can be used, resulting in poorer prognosis and an increased risk of recurrence.


Dr Faheem said: “Once contacted by Prof El-Tanani regarding the potential of the new peptide and the obstacles facing its cellular uptake, I utilised my research expertise in the area of formulation of biodegradable nano-particles for peptide delivery, to develop a strategy for engineering and full characterisation of a plethora of nano-particles to be tested in his lab for its biological activity against cancer.”


Prof El-Tanani added: “By developing a nanoparticle that can help this peptide enter triple negative breast cancer cells and block RAN we’ve brought this potential new treatment a step closer to the clinic.”


“We’re already working on in vivo tests of the nanoparticle in a triple negative breast cancer model and are thinking ahead to taking this drug into clinical trials.”


He is also working on a number of other potential RAN inhibitors, including a ‘repurposed’ drug that has been already pre-clinically validated in breast and lung cancer and is ready for clinical trials.


The University of Bradford is actively seeking further funding and investor support to support the development of these drug candidates.