The growth and prevention of cancer has been on the agenda for decades.
Yet the world has only just begun to embrace the field.
And the biggest obstacle is money.
There is no shortage of promising growth-related therapies in the pipeline, from new therapies to drugs that are designed to slow down or stop tumours growing.
But the research into new treatments has been slow to progress.
Many scientists have focused on drugs that target a specific pathway in the human body, like growth factors that promote the growth of new cells.
But the field has been struggling to develop the technology to treat cancer as a whole, in which cells grow in response to certain signals and chemicals.
And there are a number of reasons why that has been challenging.
For one, cancer cells are often resistant to a wide range of treatments, including drugs that try to kill them off.
“A lot of drugs are very effective at treating a single cancer cell but if you give them to many different cancers it’s very difficult to find the right one,” says Dr Michael Pouget, a professor of molecular biology at the University of Sydney.
In addition, there is the problem that some cancers can only be controlled by a single drug, like chemotherapy, which has a limited target.
In the UK, for example, a drug called neoadjuvant chemotherapy has been shown to slow the growth in a group of tumours, but not for other types of cancer.
In an effort to speed up the process of finding drugs that work across all cancers, a new type of drug called a “growth-promoting drug” (GPD) has been developed, which is designed to target a different pathway.
One potential application is to slow growth in some cancers in particular, and to find drugs that stop the tumour growing so quickly that it can no longer be targeted by existing treatments.
“It could be that if you stop a cancer cell from growing it becomes resistant to new treatments,” says Pouyou.
But for the time being, the drugs available to treat tumours in humans are slow to work.
Dr Christopher Kosslyn, who studies the development of new drugs for the UK’s National Health Service (NHS), says it’s hard to find new drugs that do anything to slow tumours.
“The drugs that we’re trying to develop have been very slow to move to the clinic, they haven’t moved to trials,” he says.
The drugs currently on the market are very slow-acting, and only target the cancer cells that are most important, he adds.
“These drugs are really good at slowing tumours down, but they’re not really effective in treating other types.
So it’s a difficult field to work in.”
The next step is to develop drugs that have more broad therapeutic targets that target all cancer types.
The drug used in the UK is called pyridostigmine-57, which targets the p21 protein, which helps the cell to divide.
This has been studied in the laboratory and is thought to play a role in cancer’s growth, but it has also been shown in animal studies to be toxic.
Dr Poutry says this study is important because it suggests the drug is safe.
“You don’t need to do an animal trial to know that this is safe, so that’s really encouraging,” he said.
“If this drug works in humans it will allow us to get drugs that will work in patients in many other countries that don’t have access to this drug, but are not being used as aggressively as we are now.”
So what is stopping the drug from being used in humans?
There are a range of reasons.
The first is that pyrida-57 is one of several drugs that researchers are developing that targets a pathway in human cells called p21.
Dr Kosslynn says this pathway is critical to a healthy immune system.
“We know that a lot of tumour cells have a pathway called p23 that gives them an immune response that makes them susceptible to drugs,” he explains.
“In some cases, they also have p21, which makes them resistant to chemotherapy drugs.”
And so it’s not like chemotherapy is stopping all the p23-dependent cells, but p21 is a critical pathway.
“Pyrida is also a common chemotherapy drug, which can also cause cancer to spread.
So drugs like pyride, which blocks the enzyme that metabolises pyridoacetylcholine, which metabolises the compound pyridine, could help fight cancer.
Another potential problem with the drugs currently available is that they do not have a clear target for treating all tumours at the same time.”
That’s one of the biggest issues in the field right now is getting drugs that really target the entire cell, not just the tumours that are growing, but the tumouring cells that we are trying to control,” Dr Pousay adds.
While there are many drugs that slow tumour growth, some of these drugs are