Because CRC is responsible for more than 50,000 deaths in the United States annually, there is a need for developing safer and more effective targeted therapies that can significantly decrease the mortality rates.

“Despite advances in treatment regimens, one third of CRC patients will ultimately die from metastatic (disseminated) disease. The prognosis for patients with metastatic disease is an abysmal ≤12% with no significant improvements in the last 10 years,” Rezvani said. “Thus, there is an urgent need for new therapies for patients with metastatic CRC.”

Rezvani and team answered the call by creating a novel drug using veratridine, a natural plant extract, that acts as an anti-growth and anti-metastatic cancer therapeutic in colon cancer cells. The compound has been used as an anti-hypertensive drug in the past, and it has less toxicity and other adverse side effects than most current chemotherapeutic agents.

“Discovery of new agents, which interfere with specific molecular pathways involved in cancer metastasis, can significantly change the course of treatment in patients with advanced CRC while improve patients' quality of life too,” said Rezvani.

USD is the first to create this tumor suppressing drug, and they are also the first to be able to deliver the drug only to the tumor site through a new method of highly targeted nanoparticle delivery. The site-directed nanoparticle technology is under development by Grigoriy Sereda, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Chemistry at USD, on a collaboration base.

Sereda explained that the veratridine will be sealed inside the nanoparticles by large molecules of metalloproteins that will block the pore exits and keep the drug inside. The cancer cells then produce an enzyme that splits the proteins, opens the pores and releases the anticancer drug precisely at the locations of the cancer cells. The nanoparticles are also made with a hyaluronic acid, which acts like a glue to stick to a cancer cell, increasing selectivity of the drug delivery.

“The selective drug delivery and release will drastically reduce the drug dose required for treatment and exposure of non-cancerous tissues and neurons to the drug,” he continued. “This will play to the strengths of Dr. Rezvani’s research and facilitate bringing the product to the patients. Ultimately, it will bring the drug to the patients faster.”

Rezvani started drug screening in 2014, and currently, Rezvani’s team is conducting further tests to prove their hypothesis. Their goal is to test the effectiveness of veratridine in a human clinical trial in the near future.

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