Synthesising treatments for multi-drug resistant cancers

UCB BioPharma
University of Oxford

Jack is working to synthesise a naturally occurring molecule that shows promise in the treatment of multi-drug resistant cancers.

Certain cancers are hard to treat as they harness a natural cell cleaning mechanism to reduce the effectiveness of drugs built to target them. The mechanism in question is a protein called P-glycoprotein (P-gp), found in animals and bacteria, and its role is defensive – it pumps harmful molecules out of the cell. Many cancers produce high amounts of P-gp, which make them resistant to drugs designed to tackle them.

There are compounds that inhibit this protein’s function, which are useful in increasing effectiveness of chemotherapy by disarming the cancer’s cellular defense mechanism.

Jack hopes to synthesise molecules within a group of natural products found in the Euphorbia genus of flowering plants, known as the jatrophane family of Euphorbia diterpenes, that have been shown to inhibit P-gp twice as much as current standards. Synthesis is necessary as the plants produce only a tiny amount of these compounds.

Synthesis will allow UCB BioPharma to test these molecules as pre-clinical candidates for co-administration with chemotherapy, and could pave the way to the discovery of an even more potent version of the compound.

Jack is from southwest London and studied Chemistry at Trinity College, Oxford. He wants to contribute to developing solutions to multi-drug resistant disease, one of the biggest challenges facing society. Jack is a PhD student in Synthetic Organic Chemistry and part of the EPSRC CDT in Synthesis for Biology and Medicine.

Jack first learned about the Royal Commission when he read about the Great Exhibition of 1851 while he was a schoolboy. The story of the construction of the Crystal Palace stuck with him.

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“I was inspired by that spirit of industrial optimism and innovation. I felt fondly about the idea of the Commission, and when I found out they were offering Fellowships I couldn’t help but apply. I was absolutely delighted to be accepted onto the programme.”