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Scientists at the Institute of Cancer Research, London, and the Institut Gustave Roussy in France have shown that a new drug combination slows cancer cell growth in a type of non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC).

The drug combination was tested in the lab and found to deliver a double setback to the way the Kirsten Ras (KRAS) gene makes cancer cells grow.

The KRAS gene activates two proteins called MEK and m-TOR, and when it is mutated the cells divide uncontrollably and can develop into cancer.

During testing, the scientists looked at whether blocking the functions of the two proteins would stop or slow down the growth of non-small-cell lung adenocarcinoma cells.

“We’re really delighted to have been able to get at the KRAS gene in laboratory conditions.”

Scientists used the drug trametinib to block MEK, and AZD2014 to block m-TOR. The m-TOR inhibitor, when used separately, reduced growth by more than 52%, while the MEK inhibitor slowed growth by 18%.

However, the drug combination slowed growth by 79% when compared to normal NSCLC cells.

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Institute of Cancer Research, Cancer Research UK Reader, lead author Dr Udai Banerji said: “We’re really delighted to have been able to get at the KRAS gene in laboratory conditions.

“This is still early work so we’ll need more years of research to test the drug combination and checking that it’s safe for patients and finding the right dose before it could be used routinely in the clinic.”

Non-small-cell lung adenocarcinomas is a disease that affects around 10,400 people in England each year.

Cancer Research UK senior science information manager Nell Barrie said: “Lung cancer is the biggest cancer killer in the UK, partly because it tends to be diagnosed at a late stage when it’s already spread.

“Only 7% of people diagnosed with lung cancer survive their disease for ten years or more, and this is why Cancer Research UK is prioritising investment into lung cancer research to save more lives from this disease.”

The Experimental Cancer Medicine Centre network and the National Institute for Health Research Biomedical Research Centre have also funded the project.