A Molecule That Wipes Out Hard-To-Treat Cancer Cells is Discovered

The new compound called ERX-41 kills a broad spectrum of hard-to-treat cancers.

By exploiting a cell vulnerability that was not previously targeted by existing medications, a new molecule, ERX-41, developed by a researcher at the University of Texas at Dallas kills a range of hard-to-treat cancers, including triple-negative breast cancer.

The study, which used isolated cells, human cancer tissue, and human tumors produced in mice, was just released in Nature Cancer. Click to read the article in Nature Cancer.

Dr. Jung-Mo Ahn, co-corresponding author of the paper and associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry at the University of Texas at Dallas, has devoted more than 10 years of his professional life to developing small compounds that target protein-protein interactions in cells. He previously created potential therapeutic candidate compounds for treatment-resistant prostate cancer and breast cancer using a method called structure-based rational drug design.

During an interview at Scitech Daily, Dr. Jung-Mo Ahn said that “The ERX-41 compound did not kill healthy cells, but it wiped out tumor cells regardless of whether the cancer cells had estrogen receptors. In fact, it killed the triple-negative breast cancer cells better than it killed the ER-positive cells. This was puzzling to us at the time. We knew it must be targeting something other than estrogen receptors in the TNBC cells, but we didn’t know what that was. For a tumor cell to grow quickly, it has to produce a lot of proteins, and this creates stress on the endoplasmic reticulum. Cancer cells significantly overproduce LIPA, much more so than healthy cells. By binding to LIPA, ERX-41 jams the protein processing in the endoplasmic reticulum, which becomes bloated, leading to cell death.

What is triple negative breast cancer?

Breast cancer that lacks three receptors called estrogen hormone receptor (ER), progesterone hormone receptor (PR), and human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2) on the cell membrane is called triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC).

Triple negative breast cancer is rarer than other types of breast cancer. It is about 15% of all breast cancers. But because breast cancer is so common, triple negative breast cancer affects a large number of people; such that, considering that approximately 2 million women worldwide are diagnosed with breast cancer every year, triple negative breast cancer affects at least 200 thousand women annually. It is particularly common in individuals of African or Hispanic ancestry, as well as in young women and those with a BRCA1 mutation. Hormone therapy, which is frequently used in breast cancer, is not used in this type of breast cancer.