Cambridge investigators zero in on a new, niche drug target for lung cancer

Lung cancer has one of the poorest survival rates in oncology. A group of researchers at the University of Cambridge wants to change that.

Kyren Lazarus

Homing in on lung squamous cell carcinoma (LUSC) — a common subtype of non-small cell lung cancer — the scientists found that targeting an epigenetic regulator called SETD8 can potentially lead to the selective inhibition of LUSC cell growth. That’s because SETD8 inhibition helps disrupt the actions of BCL11A, an oncogene responsible for a protein found in high amounts in LUSC cells.

“Our research has revealed a major piece of this puzzle, which we are now actively trying to make new drugs against,” says Cambridge researcher Kyren Lazarus. And the team added that targeted lung cancer drugs are badly needed to significantly improve the odds of survival for patients.

Walid Khaled

Lead author Walid Khaled also noted that they’re pursuing their new target with a grant from Cancer Research UK, looking to block BCL11A in LUSC cells with new drugs in development. 

We are aiming to disrupt critical interactions that BCL11A has with other proteins and are working closely with our colleagues at the Department of Biochemistry in Cambridge and CRUK Beatson Institute Drug Discovery Unit to achieve this.

With the new drug discovery grant, they will now work to develop small molecules utilizing this pathway.

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