Bowel cancer graphic

Copper-tweaked drug could provide new options for treating bowel cancer

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Sometimes a small change is all it takes. RCSI research has found that a drug that is already showing promise to tackle blood cancers could potentially also be applied to treat other cancers too, if it has a small chemical tweak that adds a dash of copper.

Belinostat is an FDA-approved drug that has shown promise for treating blood cancers. But its use is limited, because the drug gets broken down quickly in the body. This makes it less suitable for tackling solid tumours in the body, such as bowel cancers. 

To make the drug last longer in the body, RCSI researchers designed and created a version they call copper-belinostat or “Cubisbel”, by adding copper to the drug’s chemical structure.  

The body is slower to break this version of the drug down, meaning Cubisbel could potentially reach cancers intact at further sites.  

But would the copper-added version of the drug be effective?  

The researchers tested it out on bowel cancer cells growing in the lab and found that regular belinostat and the copper-added Cubisbel had similar anti-cancer effects.  

This suggests that Cubisbel could potentially form part of bowel cancer treatments in the future.  

Dr Sudipto Das, Lecturer and Principal Investigator at RCSI School of Pharmacy and Biomolecular Sciences led the project with Professor Celine Marmion, RCSI Department of Chemistry in collaboration with colleagues in Pennsylvania State University, University College Dublin, GeneXplain GMbH, Germany (Enterprise partner) and Albert Einstein Cancer Center in New York. 

Their open-access paper ‘Complexation of histone deacetylase inhibitor belinostat to Cu(II) prevents premature metabolic inactivation in vitro and demonstrates potent anti-cancer activity in vitro and ex vivo in colon cancer’ is published in Cellular Oncology.   

The research was supported by grants from the Irish Research Council, Science Foundation Ireland, ERASMUS funding and EU Horizon 2020. 

RCSI is committed to achieving a better and more sustainable future through the UN Sustainable Development Goals.