A cancer breakthrough: Canada-U.S. team develop ‘sharp-shooter’ drug targeting several cancers

WATCH: Toronto researchers reveal promising new investigational cancer drug. Beatrice Politi reports. 

TORONTO – $40 million. 10 years. And 100 researchers.

It was a long commitment and a lot of resources poured into a new cancer drug Canadian and U.S. scientists say may hold the key to halting the growth of several cancers.

And after the decade of research, Canada’s own Dr. Tak Mak and Los Angeles scientist Dr. Dennis Slamon said they’ve filed a 4,000-page application to Health Canada and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in hopes that the “sharp-shooter” drug they’ve developed can be tested by the fall in human trials.

Both researchers are at the forefront of global cancer research.

Princess Margaret Hospital, which helped to fund the research, is touting the drug – called CFI-400945 for now – as a cancer breakthrough in treatment of the disease.

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While studying human cancers in mice in the laboratory, the doctors found that the drug effectively slowed the progression of cancer. Lung, breast, ovarian, colorectal, pancreatic and prostate cancers were among the diseases studied.

“I cannot promise you it will work because in advanced human cancer, there are many other questions we do not have answers to. But we promise you, this is the beginning,” an emotional Mak told reporters at the hospital.

“There will be another drug that we will be filing for next year. And next year and next year until we get this done,” he said, choking back tears. Mak’s wife died of breast cancer in 1998. He is the director of the Campbell Family Cancer Research Institute at the hospital.

Also in the works from this duo are a string of other compounds in early development that they hope could help target cancers.

In this case, the “new” class of drugs target a specific enzyme that plays an integral role in cell division, particularly in cancer cells. It’s dubbed the “sharp-shooter” because it targets that specific enzyme.

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The application was sent to Health Canada Monday night; so far, the response from the FDA has been “favourable.”

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If successful, about 30 people would join the first trial. First, the doctors will test to see how much of this drug humans can tolerate, then they’ll begin treatment on breast and ovarian cancers.

Ultimately, if the results are a success, it could be available on the market within another decade, Mak said.

“If it’s spectacular then it will be less than 10 years. If it’s something that would be helping patients but not spectacular, then it would take 10 years,” he estimated.

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The promising research was funded by donors, those who raised money and joined weekend fundraising walks to end cancer.

That’s people like Randy Mellon.

The mother and breast cancer patient managed to raise an impressive $250,000 to the Princess Margaret Hospital after over a decade of fundraising efforts at the Shoppers Drug Mart Weekend to End Women’s Cancer events.

About 18 years ago, her father was diagnosed with leukemia and less than a year ago Randy was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Once Mellon learned she also had breast cancer, she and her friends decided to get involved in helping the cause.

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After offering bracelets and pins for donations, she launched Think Pink Direct, a website which also offers these products and many more for others who are fundraising.

“People want to see this gone away: breast cancers, women’s cancers and other cancers. They’re not fun and whatever we can do to raise the funds for research for drugs like we heard today, we need to do that,” Mellon said.

“(The new drug) is phenomenal. It’s going to give hope to so many people,” she said.

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