Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...

A new cancer drug might stop tumors in their tracks

Published Jun 23rd, 2020 11:17PM EDT
Cancer Drugs
Image: Robin Utrecht/Shutterstock

If you buy through a BGR link, we may earn an affiliate commission, helping support our expert product labs.

  • A new type of cancer drug has shown promising results in Phase 1 trials after preventing tumor growth in more than half of patients who did not have access to any other treatment.
  • Called berzosertib, the drug is part of “precision medicine” therapies that target specific genes or genetic changes.
  • Berzosertib works best when combined with traditional chemotherapy. The latter destroys cancerous cells but has side effects on the entire body, and berzosertib prevents the tumor cells from healing without affecting other healthy cells.

The novel coronavirus pandemic has been on the front page for months now, as we’re still figuring out how to deal with the worst health crisis in recent history. Despite all the bad news in the past few months, there has been plenty of good news as well. Doctors have learned how to fight this disease with some success, identifying drugs that work and therapies that can reduce complications. We’re still not out of the woods yet, and COVID-19 might never be eradicated, but vaccine candidates have shown promise. Similarly, an increasing number of antibody-based drugs seem to block the virus in lab tests and could prove to be the treatments we need to beat the illness.

With the coronavirus pandemic running at full steam, it’s easy to forget there are plenty of other severe medical conditions that deserve our attention. And some of those medical issues could lead to COVID-19 complications after infection. But researchers are still developing cures for these other diseases despite the pandemic, and we’ve just received great news for a massive development in the world of cancer treatments. A new drug that’s in Phase 1 trials is showing great promise at halting tumor growth. What kind of tumors? All of them.

There are a wide variety of malignant tumors that affect the body in different ways and have a particular course of treatment. Depending on the diagnosis, some patients might have better chances of surviving cancer than others. Various factors affect the course of the disease and the treatment. The faster you diagnose a cancerous growth, the easier it could be to treat and cure, but even then, you can risk relapse.

There’s no universal drug to cure cancer, but scientists have concocted a new compound that might come close. Called berzosertib, the medicine can stop cancer cells from repairing themselves and continuing to grow inside the body. It’s not berzosertib that delivers the payload that destroys the cells — you still need traditional chemotherapy for that — but adding berzosertib could increase the chances of success, according to a new trial.

More than half of 40 patients who got the drug had the growth of their tumors halted, BBC News reports, in the trial run by the Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) and The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust.

Phase 1 is designed to test the safety of the drug, and more stages will be required before berzosertib can be approved. The first stage included patients with very advanced tumors, for whom no other treatment worked. The next phase is already underway.

But the drug seems to do what it’s supposed to do. It blocks a protein involved in DNA repair which prevents cancer cells from recovering. This is part of a treatment concept called “precision medicine” that targets specific genes or genetic changes. Unlike chemotherapy, the drug only targets tumor cells and not healthy cells.

Scientists say that it’s unusual for Phase 1 drugs to show a clinical response, and further trials will need to prove the drug’s effectiveness. Still, berzosertib appears to have worked, even if it can’t be labeled as a game-changer quite yet. A patient with advanced bowel cancer found his tumors had vanished after berzosertib and he remained cancer-free for two years. Another patient with ovarian cancer saw her tumors shrink after combining chemotherapy with the drug. The phases of the trial might last significantly longer than other clinical trials.

“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,” Dr. Darius Wider told BBC News.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.