New class of drug targets skin cancer

Initial trials suggest it is safe and effective


A new kind of DNA-based drug has been used to treat a form of skin cancer.

The researchers involved believe it may also prove effective in a more dangerous skin cancer – melanoma.

The first human use of the drug, known as DZ13, was conducted at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney, Australia, but an Irish research clinician was principal investigator in the project. Details of the early phase one trial are published in the current edition of the journal Lancet .

Dr Fergal Moloney was based in Sydney when he collaborated with Prof Levon Khachigian of the University of New South Wales and Prof Gary Halliday of the University of Sydney on the clinical trial.

It involved the use of a DNA-based drug referred to as a “DNAzyme”, said Dr Moloney, who is now a consultant dermatologist at the Mater hospital in Dublin and a senior clinical lecturer at University College Dublin.

The drug acted like a “molecular assassin” in the way it could target only cancer cells and not healthy tissues, he said.

The DNA in the drug attaches itself to a protein released by a cancer cell gene called c-Jun, Dr Moloney said. “Once it binds to it, the DZ13 cleaves it in half.”