Project details

Researcher: Dr Robert Falconer

Location: University of Bradford

Research theme: Treatment

The challenge

There are effective treatment options for women with breast cancer. But when breast cancer spreads around the body it sadly becomes incurable. We desperately need to find new treatments to stop breast cancer taking lives.

The science behind the project

Some cancer drugs that work well in the laboratory and effectively kill cancer cells, never make it to the patients due to severe side effects. Dr Falconer believes that one way to get around this problem is to modify the drug so that it is given as an inactive, non-toxic form, which only gets activated when it reaches the tumour and not anywhere else in the body.

Duocarmycin is a chemotherapy drug which cells are very sensitive to and have a low chance of developing resistance to. However, it is extremely toxic and so currently can’t be used in people. Dr Falconer and his team would like to modify duocarmycin for it to be inactive in the bloodstream and around healthy cells and tissues. The researchers want to incorporate a special switch so that the drug can become activated by proteins, called membrane-type matrix metalloproteinases, or MT MMPs, which are only made by cancer cells. In this way, healthy cells would be protected and the drug shouldn’t cause severe side effects. 

The researchers are planning to test several modifications of duocarmycin and see which ones work best in the laboratory. If they are successful and the modified drug works as expected in tests with breast cancer cells in the lab and in mice, it could then be tested further in clinical trials.

What difference will this project make?

If successful, this will be a first-in-class, novel cancer drug, which could then be further tested in clinical trials with people living with secondary breast cancer. Dr Falconer believes that this project has significant potential to improve the quality of life for patients with secondary breast cancer, regardless of which type of the disease they have.

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