A team of Indian researchers has found potential cancer-fighting properties in a protein found in a bacterium present in the human body. Once developed, the non-toxic drug could revolutionise cancer treatment by ruling out the toxic side effects of the current treatment, said Ananda Chakrabarty, 73, a biotechnologist from the University of Illinois.
Chakrabarty, who was in the city last week to raise money for animal trials for the drug, set up Amrita Therapeutics in Ahmedabad three years ago to develop the drug. Since February 2010, laboratory experiments have revealed that the chemically synthesised protein part - named AT-01 - derived from Mycobacterium Bovis, has the ability to kill cancer cells and rule out a relapse.
"At present, drugs and therapy used to treat cancerous tumours kill the cells. But the chance of a relapse after two years is very high. If we have to eradicate cancer, a drug has to not only kill cancer cells but also prevent normal cells from turning cancerous," said Chakrabarty, who was awarded the Padma Shri in 2007 for his work in genetic engineering technology. Chakrabarty hopes that the non-toxic drug will replace chemotherapy completely.
"Normally, when a patient is diagnosed with cancer, the tumour is surgically removed, followed by chemotherapy.But the therapy releases a lot of toxicity in the body with side effects such as nausea, vomiting and weakness."
Last October, the team filed a patent for the chemically synthesised protein portion. They will now determine the effectiveness of the bacterial protein through toxicity studies on animals followed by human trials.
Chakrabarty, in 2000, developed Azurin, another bacterial protein product with potential anti-cancer properties (see box). "This shows that there is more than one protein in bacteria that can fight cancer."
The animal trial for the Indian discovery needs up to Rs10 crore and Chakrabarty has begun talking to government agencies, corporates and angel investors to raise the money.
"We want to hire private contract research organisations that are approved by the US Food and Drug Administration to be able to market the drug globally," said Chakrabarty, adding, "If successful, the new drug designed, conceived and developed in India will be the first Indian anti-cancer drug to go global."
"The (Indian) research holds promise as early studies suggest that azurin can selectively enter cancer cells slowing their growth without damaging normal cells. As it can enter cancer cells, other molecules or drugs could be piggybacked on these proteins, providing an avenue for drug delivery," said Dr Vinay Deshmane, cancer surgeon, Hinduja Hospital, Mahim.