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Anti-cancer Drug Derived From Himalayan ‘Caterpillar Fungus’ Kills Cancer Cells With 40 Times the Potency

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A new type of chemotherapy derived from a molecule found in a Himalayan fungus has been uncovered as a powerful anti-cancer agent, and may in the future give another treatment option for patients with cancer.

NUC-7738, synthesized by researchers at the Oxford University in partnership with UK-based biopharmaceutical company NuCana,  has the potential to destroy cancer cells 40 times more effective than previous compounds, and when compared to existing chemotherapy medications, it does this with less harm to the body.

NUC-7738 is still in the experimental testing stages of development, so it’s not yet accessible as anti-cancer medication yet; but newly reported clinical trial findings look promising for the drug candidate, indicating that it could give a new therapy option for cancer patients.

The active ingredient in NUC-7738 is called cordycepin,  also known as 3′-deoxyadenosine (or 3′-dA), is a naturally occurring nucleoside analog that was first found in the parasitic fungus species Ophiocordyceps sinensis dwelling in the high mountain regions of China, which is commonly known as caterpillar fungus since it kills and mummifies moth larva. It has been utilized as a herbal treatment in traditional Chinese medicine for generations, and today, scientists are aware of its anti-tumor potential since it has been found to exert anti-cancer, anti-oxidant, and anti-inflammatory effects.

The active ingredient in NUC-7738 is called cordycepin, Cordycepin, also known as 3′-deoxyadenosine (or 3′-dA), is a naturally occurring nucleoside analog that was first found in the parasitic fungus species Ophiocordyceps sinensis dwelling in the high mountain regions of China, which is commonly known as caterpillar fungus since it kills and mummifies moth larva. It has been used as a herbal treatment in traditional Chinese medicine for for centuries, and today, researchers are aware of its anti-tumor potential since it has been found to exert anti-cancer, anti-oxidant, and anti-inflammatory effects. All this makes the fungus extremely sought after, which goes some way to explaining why the fungus is sometimes called the world’s most valuable parasite.

However, aside from its miraculous properties, naturally occurring cordycepin isolated from O. inensis does have its drawbacks, however, including that it is broken down quickly in the bloodstream – with a half-life of 1.6 minutes in plasma – by the enzyme adenosine deaminase, or ADA. It also shows poor uptake into cells, meaning the molecule’s actual potency against tumor cells in the body is greatly diminished.

To make the drug possible, NUC-7738 leverages a number of engineered advantages to permitting cordycepin to enter cells independently of nucleoside transporters, enhancing its anti-cancer capabilities. Besides, unlike its natural counterpart, NUC-7738 is pre-activated thanks to brilliant adjustments and is resistant to breaking down in the bloodstream, with built-in protection against ADA, as per a study published in the journal Clinical Cancer Research.

These modifications make the drug candidate’s anti-cancer properties up to 40 times more potent, as seen in tests on a variety of human cancer cell lines. Furthermore, the latest study describes the preliminary results from the first-in-human clinical trial of NUC-7738, which began in 2019 and is still ongoing, and they appear to be promising so far.

This is a promising start, and once the drug’s safety has been thoroughly demonstrated and the suggested regimen for Phase 2 patients has been defined, further trials will be initiated.

The findings are reported in Clinical Cancer Research.

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