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Targeting slowly dividing cells

Stig Linder is Professor of Molecular Cancer Pharmacology at the Department of Oncology-Pathology. His research aims to develop new cancer drugs. Two of his discoveries are currently undergoing phase 1 tests in the USA. A blood test for tumour cell death that his group has developed is used in the development of drugs and the diagnosis of liver diseases.

Stig Linder has been an adjunct professor at KI since 1999 and works in the area of cancer drug research. Clinical phase 1 trials are currently underway for two of the drug candidates that his group has discovered.

“We are working with two different areas of cancer treatment,” he says. “The intended disease area for one of our substances is multiple myeloma, a form of blood cancer. The problem with existing drugs of its kind – so called proteasome inhibitors – is that cancer cells gradually develop resistance to them. Our substance works along a different principle and would therefore be a valuable addition to the current therapy arsenal.”

The other project is to target slowly proliferating cells in solid tumours, cells that are resistant to conventional cancer drugs.

“The therapies used today damage rapidly proliferating cancer cells”, Stig Linder explains. “But there is often a reservoir of cancer cells that do not divide quickly, and conventional drugs can’t touch them. These cells have a poor oxygen and nutrient supply and a limited metabolic plasticity. Our drug candidate kills nongrowing tumour cells by disrupting their energy metabolism.”

Professor Linder’s group has teamed up with a biotech company to develop a simple blood test for tumour cell death. The test, called M30 Apoptosense, is used in clinical studies for the development of new drugs and has proved a useful marker of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NASH). The process of obtaining FDA approval for M30 Apoptosense as a marker for liver diseases has commenced.

Text: Anders Nilsson, first published in "From Cell to Society" 2015. Translation: Neil Betteridge.