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Mediterranean weed compound destroys cancer: Phase II trials planned

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
A Mediterranean weed compound shows promise for cancer treatment.

There may be new hope for patients with advanced cancer from a drug developed from a Mediterranean weed. The anti-cancer drug, called G202, has been tested in mice and in 29 people and comes from the Thapsia garganica plant that grows naturally in the Mediterranean region.

Anti-cancer drug from Mediterranean weed a ‘molecular grenade’

The Mediterranean weed destroys cancer cells by traveling through the blood stream undetected until it reaches its cancer target.

The plant, which was also known as “death carrot” in Arab caravans because it killed camels that ingested the weed, then acts like a ‘molecular grenade’, killing cancer cells and their blood supply.

The toxic product in the plant is dubbed thapsigargin that the Hopkins researchers have re-engineered for cancer treatment.

“Our goal was to try to re-engineer this very toxic natural plant product into a drug we might use to treat human cancer,” says lead study author Samuel Denmeade, M.D., professor of oncology, urology, pharmacology and molecular sciences in a press release. “We achieved this by creating a format that requires modification by cells to release the active drug.”

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The natural anti-cancer compound is described by Denmeade as similar to hand grenade with an intact pin.

According to a report published in Science Translational Medicine, G202 produced at least 50 percent regression in models of human breast cancer, kidney cancer and bladder cancer, leading to a phase 1 trial by the Hopkins team. So far, 29 patients with advanced cancer have been treated and a phase II trial is planned to test G202 in patient with liver and prostate cancer.

The drug works by blocking the function of a protein called the SERCA pump needed to keep cells alive. Because the compound goes directly to cancer cells it spares healthy cells and tissues. Because it’s so targeted, cancer cells can’t become resistant to the drug.

“The exciting thing is that the cancer itself is activating its own demise,” says senior study author John Isaacs, Ph.D., professor of oncology, urology, chemical and biomedical engineering at Johns Hopkins.

The Mediterranean weed also outperformed the chemotherapy drug docetaxel, reducing seven of nine human prostate tumors in mice by more than 50 percent in 21 days, compared to just one of 8 in the same time period for docetaxel. Johns Hopkins, the University of Wisconsin and the University of Texas-San Antonio are participating in the Phase II trials.

Johns Hopkins Medicine

Image credit: Wikimedia commons