Novel glutamine antagonist prodrugs to be developed as anticancer therapies
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An international science team at the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry of the Czech Academy of Sciences (IOCB Prague) and Johns Hopkins University (Baltimore, USA) has prepared and tested new substances for cancer treatment that are effective through stopping the metabolism of glutamine. The team’s promising results attracted investors supporting the development of these new drugs in the amount of $40.5 million. Further preclinical development and clinical testing will be led by spin-off company Dracen Pharmaceuticals. Clinical trials of the new substances should begin in 2019.

Cancer is caused by an uncontrolled cell division. There are several ways the malignant growth can be stopped, and often multiple approaches need to be combined. One of the ways to fight cancer is to block rapidly growing cancer cells from accessing important nutrients, in this case nitrogen that is received mainly from the amino acid glutamine. Substances that are similar to glutamine, so called antimetabolites, can block metabolism of glutamine and kill the cancer cell. However, a significant disadvantage is that glutamine is an important source of nitrogen for a number of processes in healthy cells as well, and blocking its metabolism often affects healthy tissues, such as digestive tract cells.

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