BC Researchers Use “Virtual Screening” to Fight the Deadliest Forms of Prostate Cancer

Date Posted: 
2010-11-29

Vancouver, British Columbia — Two Vancouver researchers are tackling the deadliest forms of prostate cancer,t he most commonly diagnosed male cancer in Canada, using a brand new field of genomics called computational chemogenomics. This new approach uses computer modeling in virtual 3D to predict how different chemicals or drugs will affect cancer tumours.

The project, titled “Methods of Chemical Genomics” has received $324,000 in funding, with $161,500 from Genome BC and the rest from other partners including the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Vancouver Prostate Centre. Drs. Art Cherkasov and Paul Rennie of the Vancouver Prostate Centre are using chemogenomics to develop a novel class of prostate cancer drugs in order to provide new treatment options for this disease.

Currently, prostate cancer is treated with drugs that either block or bind the male hormone receptor thereby effectively shrinking the tumour. Unfortunately, for many men, the effectiveness of this type of treatment is temporary and the cancer cells become treatment-resistant. With no curative treatment options available, the average life expectancy for men whose bodies resist this type of treatment is less than 18 months. “The impact of this project on patient survival could be tremendous if we can develop a new drug that avoids this resistance issue,” says Dr. Cherkasov.

To help create new prostate cancer drugs that overcome the drug-resistance issues of current treatments, the researchers will identify a new class of chemicals that act on the male hormone receptor in a different way. They will examine over 10 million compounds or chemicals looking for potential new drugs, and then using computational chemogenomics, screen the compounds using computer software to gauge the potential effectiveness of their chemicals in targeting prostate tumours.

“This type of ‘virtual screening’ is expected to shave years off the typical discovery process for new drug candidates and will allow scientists to identify and test the most promising chemical compounds more rapidly," says Dr. Rennie. Presently, it can take 10 years or more to bring a compound to the stage of testing in humans. This new high-tech approach could significantly shorten the wait for novel prostate cancer treatments.

This ability to take huge amounts of data on how chemicals or drugs affect prostate cancer has the potential to save a significant amount of money and time for the BC healthcare system. “What we are seeing is that with virtual screening we are able to narrow down what drugs we should be taking through to testing in the laboratory or the clinical trial stage,” says Cherkasov. “When trying to create new drugs in the past, you’d make your best guess on what compound you thought might work, test and get a success rate of about .01%. The use of virtual screening offers the potential for a much higher success rate which would be an enormous improvement in the field.”

It’s precisely this combination of cutting-edge science and innovation that has Genome BC excited. “Chemogenomics is becoming an accepted part of drug discovery and promises to revolutionize the field in a manner comparable to how bioinformatics transformed biology research 10 years ago,” says Dr. Alan Winter, President and CEO of Genome BC, one of the key funders of this project. “This project is groundbreaking, and we are excited by the potential impact it could have on prostate cancer research.”

Genome BC funded the project as part of its Strategic Opportunities Fund (SOF), which provides funding to key life sciences initiatives in BC.

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