A new technique designed to seek out one of the most commonly overexpressed molecules in pancreatic cancers could stop the disease spreading. 

Using computational chemistry techniques, a team of researchers at the University of Hertfordshire and Barts Cancer Institute were able to design compounds capable of inhibiting the function of a molecule called S100P.

When activated, S100P leads to signalling changes inside cancer cells that spur them to grow and divide in a much quicker fashion than normal.

The protein is found to be overexpressed in many aggressive forms of pancreatic ductal carcinomas (PDAC) – a type of pancreatic cancer that makes up around 90% of all those diagnosed.

PDAC has one of the lowest five-year survival rates for any type of cancer because of the cancer’s rapid spreading, late diagnosis and a high incidence of treatment resistance.

The team created a series of new drug structures based on an existing drug called Cromolyn which is used as a preventative treatment for allergy-induced asthma.

Once a series of compounds that could, in theory, inhibit the function of S100P were created, the team then used molecular biology techniques to screen 93 synthetic compounds to confirm their inhibitory function.

From the 93, 18 potential drug candidates were identified and tested for their toxicity to cancer cells.

Results suggested that all 18 compounds inhibited the growth and migration of pancreatic tumour cells, suggesting they could be used as treatments to help slow down the progression of PDAC and potentially re-sensitise them to existing chemotherapies.

The team are now looking at ways to clarify any possible side effects of the compounds before testing in humans.