From sulphur chemistry to new cancer

28 Feb 2014

Genes encode proteins, which are the machinery of life. All life forms make proteins that contain strong bonds between pairs of cysteine amino acids called disulphide bonds. Most disulphide bonds stabilize a proteins structure. A minor population of disulphide bonds serves a functional role. Philip Hogg and his team at UNSW have shown that some disulphide bonds have evolved to control how proteins work by breaking or forming in a precise way. He has called these bonds "allosteric disulphides". Application of this basic research has led to the development of a novel class of cancer drugs and a cell death imaging agent.

The lead cancer drug is currently being trialled in cancer patients in the UK. Four patients have been treated so far and the initial results are very promising. The drug has the potential to turn cancer into a manageable disease. A new company, Cystemix Pty Ltd, has been formed to manage the commercial development of this suite of drugs.

The imaging agent non-invasively detects dying and dead tumour cells. The agent could be used, for instance, to assess the efficacy of cancer therapy in real time. The technology has been licensed to Covidien for clinical development. This licensing deal is the largest ever done by the University of New South Wales in the biomedical area.