Scientists at The University of Sheffield have discovered a novel drug with the potential to treat difficult cancers, such as pancreatic and relapsed breast cancer.

Working alongside a team of biotech experts within the spin-out company Modulus Oncology, Sheffield scientists believe the novel drug molecules, known as adrenomedullin-2 receptor antagonists, could improve life quality and life expectancy of patients with aggressive forms of cancer.

For over 10 years, research has been accumulating, demonstrating the role of the adrenomedullin hormone and one of its corresponding receptors, the adrenomedullin-2 receptor, in a wide range of cancers. High levels of adrenomedullin in the blood usually indicate a more aggressive cancer and therefore a worse prognosis. This is particularly important in pancreatic cancer, the 10th most common cancer in the UK with only 5% of patients surviving 10 years post-diagnosis.  

Having been working on this research for the past 12 years, Professor Tim Skerry from The University of Sheffield’s Department of Oncology and Metabolism said: “Pancreatic tumours are notoriously aggressive and difficult to treat and their location makes it easy for the cancer to spread to nearby organs such as the liver and stomach. The nature of pancreatic cancers means it is hard to get current drugs into the tumour. We believe adrenomedullin-2 receptors offer advantages for pancreatic cancer patients.” 

Treatments currently available for pancreatic cancer patients include the classic radiotherapy and chemotherapy, which aim to kill the cancer cells. These new drug molecules stand apart from the traditional therapies, as it targets a small number of cancerous cells as opposed to damaging healthy cells throughout the body.  

The drug showed promising results in pancreatic cancer tumours in mice models, slowing tumour growth and extending life expectancy. These findings also show that the drug works as intended, blocking the actions of adrenomedullin on the specific receptors in cancer cells without impacting its crucial role in the bodily control of blood pressure. 

Dr Alan Wise, CEO of Modulus Oncology, said: “The team at the University of Sheffield have performed some truly pioneering research here and I am delighted to be helping Modulus Oncology take this vital work towards clinical testing.”

Next steps for this research will be investigating how effective the drug is against other aggressive cancers such as relapsed breast and lung cancer, alongside taking the drug to clinical trials to prove efficacy in humans, for which Modulus Oncology is currently raising funding. 

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