A chemotherapy drug, NUC-7738, which is derived from a Himalayan fungus has been found to have 40 times greater potency in killing cancer cells than its original parent compound.

The drug has been produced and is currently in clinical trials due to a collaboration between Oxford University and NuCana. This partnership was brought together to assess the fungus-derived drug, and a study by Clinical Cancer Research has shown promise results.

The next stage of the process is the initiation of a Phase I clinical trial, called NuTide:701, which will test the drug in patients with advanced solid tumours that were resistant to conventional treatments. Early results from the trial are pointing towards positive anti-cancer activity, and the drug being well-tolerated by patients.

The fungus-derived drug will utilise ProTide technology, which is a novel approach for delivering chemotherapy drugs into cancer cells. It is designed to attach to small chemical groups, such as the Cordycepin found in the fungus, before releasing the drug once it has reached the patient’s cancer cells. This same ProTide technology is used successfully for antiviral drugs such as Remsidivir and Sofusbuvir, which are both FDA approved to treat viral infections.

Phase II clinical trials of NUC-7738 are in the works in the continued partnership with NuCana.

Professor Sarah Blagden, from the University of Oxford, Department of Oncology, said: “Cordyceps sinensis has had potential applications in cancer treatment for hundreds of years, but the limitations of its bioactive compound Cordycepin has prevented its development into approved chemotherapy drugs. The exciting development of NUC-7738 alongside NuCana using their ProTide technology has now overcome those limitations.”

“The story of NUC-7738 wonderfully demonstrates how a pharmaceutical company, scientists and doctors can combine their expertise to develop new cancer treatments for patients. This is bench-to-bedside medicine at its best!”