NUS researchers revisit potent drug as promising treatment for acute leukemia

Jan. 30, 2023
The two-pronged attack of a “forgotten drug” simultaneously targets two cancer-causing pathways of leukemia to stop the disease in its tracks.

A team of researchers from the Cancer Science Institute of Singapore (CSI Singapore) at the National University of Singapore, led by Associate Professor Takaomi Sanda and Dr Lim Fang Qi, has breathed new life into an existing drug — combatting a type of blood cancer called T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia, or T-ALL.

The drug, called PIK-75, was initially discovered over a decade ago but was dismissed in favor of newer ones. Now, it has made a comeback that deems it unmissable — the researchers established that the drug could block not just one but two crucial cancer-causing pathways of T-ALL, enabling them to develop new treatments that could effectively stem the disease.

The team uncovered the relevant underlying pathways, so that medical interventions can be deployed to destroy all the potential routes the disease can take as it attempts to spread throughout the patient’s body.

In their study, the researchers performed a drug screening to hunt for potential candidates that could treat T-ALL. Among roughly 3,000 compounds, PIK-75 stood out for exhibiting the ability to block TAL1 transcription factor activity as well as the PI3K-AKT-PTEN signaling pathway, thereby greatly reducing the survivability of T-ALL cells.

To the researchers’ surprise, PIK-75 had originally been touted as an inhibitor of the PI3K-AKT-PTEN pathway 15 years ago but has since been left in oblivion as newer drugs come to the fore.

Their findings were published in the scientific journal Haematologica on September 8, 2022.

NUS release