According to researchers from the Free University of Brussels (ULB), the NR2F2 protein is a promising target for the development of new anticancer drugs. In a study published in the journal Nature Cancer, they explain that NR2F2 plays an essential role in malignant transition and tumor growth.
Inactivation of NR2F2 blocks the progression of benign tumors to malignant tumors. It also suppresses essential tumor functions, especially the division and differentiation of cells. That thus leads to tumor regression.
“This is the first time that we have studied this protein“, Explain Cédric Blanpain, who is leading this research. “But other studies had already shown that this protein is important in prostate cancer. And it is considered that it could be for about 30% of really ‘bad’ cancers.“
In normal tissue, like skin, we have cells that make up the stratum corneum: these are differentiated cells. “They are disappearing“, observes Cédric Blanpain, professor at ULB.”They oppose their capacity for division. Once we are differentiated, we can no longer divide.”
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By blocking NR2F2 with drugs, one could stimulate differentiation. This means that cells that are capable of dividing are removed from the tumor. The tumor is therefore doomed to regress.
“For example, there is a form of leukemia in which, when vitamin A derivatives are given, all leukemia cells turn into differentiated cells. And the leukemia goes away.“
Cédric Blanpain, in collaboration with the ULB and private and public investors, created the company ChromaCure. For three years, the team of around fifteen researchers has been developing drugs targeting NR2F2 for the treatment of cancer.
“A drug that makes cells differentiate is a bit of a dream“, he remarks.”Chemotherapy, which kills all dividing cells, is very toxic. But stimulating differentiation is a priori less toxic for the body. This drug could therefore have fewer side effects than conventional chemotherapy treatments. It could also perhaps be given in combination with chemotherapy or immunotherapy.“
A few years of research still needed
This medication is not for immediately. Indeed, ChromaCure is testing different drugs on animals to prevent cancer development or decrease tumor growth.
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“If the effects on animals are conclusive, we will still have to meet a whole series of criteria in order to be able to do clinical trials in humans.“, specifies the professor.”It would take another two to four years of development if all goes well.“
The next few years will therefore be key to knowing which cancers to treat first – breast, colon, pancreas, etc. – which patients to favor – men, women, children – and whether this medicine should be given alone or in combination with other treatments.