By Carolyn Khew, The Straits Times

A research team led by scientists in Singapore has found a new drug combination therapy which may help to treat common cancers. 

It discovered that the use of an anti-malarial drug together with the blocking of an enzyme called Casein Kinase 1 alpha was able to effectively treat human colon and bladder tumours that were grown in laboratory mice. 

The study was led by Dr Jit Kong Cheong and Professor David Virshup of the Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School Singapore. 

Colon and bladder cancers contain a mutated gene known as Ras which drives 30 per cent of all human cancers. Ras uses the Casein Kinase 1 alpha enzyme to make cancer cells grow faster. 

Since Ras is difficult to target with drugs, the scientists trained their eyes on the enzyme instead. 

Prof Virshup said enzymes are quite easy to target with drugs. 

The team discovered that since Ras and the enzyme shared a close relationship, targeting the enzyme would provide a "backdoor" to hitting the mutant Ras. 

"It's almost as good as inhibiting mutant Ras," said Prof Virshup. 

The study, which was supported by the Singapore National Research Foundation, was published online in The Journal of Clinical Investigation on Monday. 

The combination drug therapy may also benefit patients with pancreatic cancer and some lung cancers, as the Ras gene is frequently mutated in these cancers. 

According to the National Cancer Centre Singapore's website, colorectal cancer, which develops in the colon and rectum, is the most common cancer in Singapore affecting males and females. There were about 8,929 cases diagnosed from 2009 to 2013. 

"Since Ras mutant cancers are very common, this therapy might be useful for many patients," said Prof Virshup. "Of course, this will take time to do it carefully and right."


Source: The Straits Times Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.