Scientists have turned a chemical found in crocuses into a “smart bomb” that targets cancerous tumours.
Research found that the drug derived from plant extracts could wipe out tumours in a single treatment, leaving healthy tissue unharmed, and reducing the odds of debilitating side effects.
The drug, based on colchicine, an extract from the autumn crocus, is at an early stage of development, and has so far been tested only on mice.
But the University of Bradford researchers are optimistic about its potential in humans.
And unlike other side effect-free drugs, it is able to kill off more than one type of the disease, including breast, prostate, lung and bowel cancer.
Potentially, all solid tumours could be vulnerable to drugs developed this way, meaning it could be used against all but blood cancers.
In some tests of the drug, half of tumours vanished completely after a single injection.
“What we have designed is effectively a ”smart bomb” that can be triggered directly at any solid tumour without appearing to harm healthy tissue,” the Daily Mail quoted Professor Laurence Patterson as saying.
“If all goes well, we would hope to see these drugs used as part of a combination of therapies to treat and manage cancer,” he added.
Colchicine has long been known to have anti-cancer properties but has been considered too toxic for use in the human body. To get round this, the researchers attached a chemical “tail” to it, deactivating it until it reaches the cancer.
Once there, an enzyme called MMP, which is found in tumours, cuts off the tail.
Removing the tail activates the drug, which then attacks and breaks down the blood vessels supplying the tumours with oxygen and nourishment.
Cancers use the blood supply to spread around the body and it is hoped that the treatment, called ICT2588, will also combat this.
The first tests on humans could start in as little as 18 months. If successful, the drug could be on the market in six to seven years.