Novel Prostate Cancer Treatment Spares Healthy Cells

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A new prostate cancer treatment may be on its way. An anticancer compound discovered by researchers at Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute could lead to a new prostate cancer treatment for patients with advanced prostate cancer. The new compound, called SMIP004, holds promise because it appears to kill prostate cancer cells while sparing normal cells.

“For advanced prostate cancer—castration-resistant prostate cancer in particular—when the cancer recurs, the only therapy is Taxol, which will prolong life for only a couple of months,” said senior study author Dieter Wolf, M.D., director of the National Cancer Institute-designated Cancer Center proteomics facility at Sanford-Burnham. “There’s good potential that our compound could become a novel, much-needed therapy for castration-resistant prostate cancer.” Taxol (paclitaxel) is a type of chemotherapy and is considered an initial choice for treating advanced prostate cancer.

How does SMIP004 work? 

All prostate cancer treatments have what is called a mechanism of action. This is where the treatment interacts to slow down or kill the prostate cancer. The following drugs may be used after Taxol or if Taxol is not an option. Zytiga (abiraterone acetate) works by inhibiting one of the enzymes that is essential to produce androgen, the hormone that causes prostate cancer to grow and spread. Xtandi (enzalutamide) works by binding to androgen receptors to stop androgen production. Provenge (sipuleucel-T) works by stimulating an innate immune response against prostate cancer.

SMIP004 appears to cause cancer cells to die by interfering with their ability to adequately handle environmental stress. More specifically, this prostate cancer treatment interferes with the mitochondria of cancer cells and increases oxidative stress. Mitochondria are an essential part of cell growth and function, and increasing oxidative stress not only decreases cancer cell growth but also stimulates cells to die.

SMIP004 has been shown to decrease the number of androgen receptors. According to Dr. Wolf, SMIP004 is particularly promising as a prostate cancer treatment for advanced prostate cancer because of its actions against androgen receptors.

SMIP004 treats advanced prostate cancer without harming normal cells. Dr. Wolf states that SMIP004 “increases the stress level beyond what a cancer cell can take, whereas normal cells can cope with it because they have a much lower level of oxidative stress to begin with. So we think that SMIP004 is likely to be harmless to normal cells, but broadly effective against many types of cancer cells.”

Not just for prostate cancer treatment

Wolf hopes that SMIP004 may also hold promise in other cancers. In animal studies, the compound also showed inhibition of breast cancer. Because many different types of cancer are exposed to stressful conditions, there is the potential that SMIP004 could be used in multiple types of cancer.

Read more in our Prostate Cancer Health Center.


Rico-Bautista E et al. Small molecule-induced mitochondrial disruption directs prostate cancer inhibition via UPR signaling. Oncotarget 2013 Aug; 4(8): 1212-29