Re­searchers de­vel­op a small-mol­e­cule 'sun­less tan' to guard against skin can­cer

Re­searchers have de­signed a small-mol­e­cule SIK in­hibitor ca­pa­ble of pen­e­trat­ing hu­man skin, which could lead the way to a ‘sun­less tan’ that has the po­ten­tial to re­duce the risk of skin can­cer. The mol­e­cule, de­vel­oped at Mass­a­chu­setts Gen­er­al Hos­pi­tal and the Dana-Far­ber Can­cer In­sti­tute, by­pass­es the de­fec­tive re­cep­tor that pre­vents many fair-skinned peo­ple from tan­ning and stim­u­lates melanin pro­duc­tion fur­ther down the line.

Ex­po­sure to ul­tra­vi­o­let light doesn’t al­ways lead to tan­ning in fair-skinned in­di­vid­u­als be­cause many of them lack a func­tion­al melanocortin 1 re­cep­tor (MC1R). Re­searchers orig­i­nal­ly be­lieved this re­cep­tor and the hor­mone that stim­u­lates it—MC1R lig­and melanocyte stim­u­lat­ing hor­mone (MSH)—were nec­es­sary to pro­duce melanin in re­sponse to UV light ex­po­sure.

Pre­vi­ous re­search showed they could stim­u­late the pig­men­ta­tion in mice that didn’t have a func­tion­al re­cep­tor by ap­ply­ing forskolin, a cyclic AMP ag­o­nist. The mice pro­duced pig­ment with­out the func­tion­ing re­cep­tor, but this ear­li­er mol­e­cule wouldn’t pen­e­trate thick­er hu­man skin to have the same ef­fect.

The team turned to SIK in­hibitors which, like forskolin, work on the same path­way fur­ther down the line than the Mc1R re­cep­tors. SIK in­hibitors were known to pro­duce the same out­come by en­hanc­ing ex­pres­sion of the MITF tran­scrip­tion fac­tor, which reg­u­lates ex­pres­sion of en­zymes that pro­mote biosyn­the­sis of melanin.

David Fish­er, MGH Can­cer Cen­ter

Once the team showed that the SIK in­hibitor had stim­u­lat­ed the path­way to pro­duce melanin in red-haired mice — who, like red-haired hu­mans, gen­er­al­ly don’t tan — they worked with Nathaneal Gray, vice chair of re­search in pe­di­atric on­col­o­gy at Dana Far­ber, to find a small mol­e­cule SIK in­hibitor that was able to pen­e­trate hu­man skin. They rubbed the drug on­to skin sam­ples for eight days, and showed a grad­ual dark­en­ing of the skin. Af­ter they stopped, there was a grad­ual light­en­ing — just like a re­al tan. 

If the mol­e­cule grad­u­ates in­to the clin­ic, it’ll face long odds against an un­yield­ing late-stage fail­ure rate. Should it be­come a prod­uct, some con­sumers might find this mol­e­cule ap­peal­ing for cos­met­ic rea­sons, as it cre­ates a tan us­ing the body’s nat­ur­al mech­a­nism for col­or­ing skin.

Ex­cept MGH re­searcher David Fish­er tells BBC News: “[Our] re­al goal is a nov­el strat­e­gy for pro­tect­ing skin from UV ra­di­a­tion and can­cer … dark pig­ment is as­so­ci­at­ed with a low­er risk of all forms of skin can­cer — that would be re­al­ly huge.”

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Analysts hate to lose a biotech CFO they’ve come to trust and admire — especially if they’re being blindsided by a surprise exit.

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David Grainger [file photo]

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Chemotherapy and radiotherapy are the current gladiators of cancer treatment, but they come with well-known limitations and side-effects. The emergence of immunotherapy — a ferocious new titan in oncologist’s toolbox — takes the brakes off the immune system to kill cancer cells with remarkable success in some cases, but the approach is not always effective. What makes certain forms of cancer so resilient? Scientists may have finally pieced together a tantalizing piece of the puzzle, and a new biotech is banking on a new approach to fill the gap.

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While No­var­tis ban­ish­es Zol­gens­ma scan­dal scars — Bio­gen goes on a Spin­raza 'of­fen­sive'

While Novartis painstakingly works to mop up the stench of the data manipulation scandal associated with its expensive gene therapy for spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) Zolgensma— rival Biogen is attempting to expand the use of its SMA therapy, Spinraza. 

The US drugmaker $BIIB secured US approval for Spinraza for use in the often fatal genetic disease in 2016. The approval covered a broad range of patients with infantile-onset (most likely to develop Type 1) SMA. 

Jason Kelly. Mike Blake/Reuters via Adobe

Eye­ing big ther­a­peu­tic push, Gink­go bags $290M to build a cell pro­gram­ming em­pire

Ginkgo Bioworks is on a roll. Days after publicizing a plan to nurture new startups via partnerships with accelerators Y Combinator and Petri, the Boston biotech says it has raised another $290 million for its cell programming platform to reach further and wider.

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UP­DAT­ED: Speak­er Nan­cy Pelosi to un­veil bill for fed­er­al­ly ne­go­ti­at­ed drug prices

After months of buzz from both sides of the aisle, Speaker Nancy Pelosi will today introduce her plan to allow the federal government to negotiate prices for 250 prescription drugs, setting up a showdown with a pharmaceutical industry working overtime to prevent it.

The need to limit drug prices is a rare point of agreement between President Trump and Democrats, although the president has yet to comment on the proposal and will likely face pressure to back a more conservative option or no bill at all. Republican Senator Chuck Grassley is reportedly lobbying his fellow party members on a more modest proposal he negotiated with Democratic Senator Ron Wyden in July.

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Zachary Hornby. Boundless

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It was the cellular equivalent of opening your car door and finding an active, roaring engine in the driver seat.

Scientists learned strands of DNA could occasionally appear outside of its traditional home in the nucleus in the 1970s, when they appeared as little, innocuous circles on microscopes; inexplicable but apparently innate. But not until UC San Diego’s Paul Mischel published his first study in Science in 2014 did researchers realize these circles were not only active but potentially overactive and driving some cancer tumors’ superhuman growth.

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Mer­ck helps bankroll new part­ner Themis' game plan to fin­ish the chikun­gun­ya race and be­gin on­colyt­ic virus quest

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