A drug derived from plant extracts could wipe out tumours in a single treatment with minimal side effects, according to research.
Scientists have turned a chemical found in crocuses into a ‘smart bomb’ that targets cancerous tumours.
Crucially, healthy tissue is unharmed, reducing the odds of debilitating side effects.
And unlike other side effect-free drugs, it is able to kill off more than one type of the disease, including breast, prostate, lung and bowel cancer.
Potentially, all solid tumours could be vulnerable to drugs developed this way, meaning it could be used against all but blood cancers.
In some tests of the drug, half of tumours vanished completely after a single injection, the British Science Festival will hear this week.
The drug, based on colchicine, an extract from the autumn crocus, is at an early stage of development, and has so far been tested only on mice.
But the University of Bradford researchers are optimistic about its potential in humans.
The risk of dying from bowel cancer is three times higher in some parts of the UK than others, a study shows.
In Glasgow, where the rate is highest, 31 people per 100,000 die each year from the disease.
This compares with the lowest rate of nine deaths per 100,000 in Rossendale, Lancashire, according to figures compiled by the Beating Bowel Cancer charity.
Professor Laurence Patterson said: ‘What we have designed is effectively a “smart bomb” that can be triggered directly at any solid tumour without appearing to harm healthy tissue.
‘If all goes well, we would hope to see these drugs used as part of a combination of therapies to treat and manage cancer.’
Colchicine has long been known to have anti-cancer properties but has been considered too toxic for use in the human body. To get round this, the researchers attached a chemical ‘tail’ to it, deactivating it until it reaches the cancer.
Once there, the tail is cut off by an enzyme called MMP, which is found in tumours.