The drug, JS-K, reacts with a substance inside cancer cells. This reaction causes the release of nitric oxide, which kills or slows the growth of cancer cells without harming healthy cells.
Tests with the drug showed it triggered this destruction in acute myeloid leukemia (AML) cells grown in the laboratory. It also slowed the growth of AML cells in mice. AML is the most common and deadly form of leukemia.
In other tests on cell cultures, JS-K inhibited growth of AML cells and did the same, to a lesser extent, in prostate, colon and breast cancer cells. It also inhibited the growth of prostate cancer cells in mice.
The study appears in the April issue of Molecular Cancer Therapeutics.
"If all goes well, this would be the first cancer chemotherapeutic agent based on selective delivery of nitric oxide to tumor cells and therefore would constitute a novel class of cancer drugs," researcher Dr. Paul Shami, of the University of Utah School of Medicine, says in a news release.
Even if all goes well, JS-K would not undergo initial safety and efficacy trials in human leukemia patients until at least 2005.
Here's where you can learn more about leukemia.