By knocking out a set of stress signals regulated by a master control molecule in cells called HSF1, the new inhibitor was able to kill human ovarian cancer cells grown in mice.
HSF1 controls a complex web of signals triggered in response to cellular stress and is not usually activated in normal cells.
The researchers believe that treatments to block the molecule could be effective against different cancers, including forms of ovarian cancer that are not treatable effectively at present.
ICR study co-leader professor Keith Jones said: “It’s exciting to have discovered an inhibitor for this vitally important signalling network, which helps cancer cells to survive the strains and stresses of genetic mutations and continual growth and division.
“This research gives us a tool to understand how these stress signals work in cancer, and offers important clues for how that information can be turned into new treatments.”
As part of the research, about 200,000 chemicals of different structures and sizes were screened and found one that contained a chemical motif called a bisamide.
New iterations of the bisamide were designed by the researchers adding new chemical features in order to generate a prototype drug, which inhibited HSF1 signalling.
With the new molecule, known as CCT251236, researchers will be able to explore the effects on cancer cells of blocking HSF1 signalling.
It could also lead scientists to a new drug capable of blocking cancer’s stress response that might prove effective against various types of cancer.