Researchers ID new class of oral cancer drugs

Cara Gonzales, D.D.S., Ph.D., from the UT Health San Antonio School of Dentistry, is working to find a cure for oral cancer.

Researchers at UT Health San Antonio have identified a potent new class of anti-cancer drugs that target oral cancer cells while leaving other cells unharmed. The new drug class also has shown promise in stopping other types of cancer.

In two recent papers, a research team led by Cara Gonzales, D.D.S., Ph.D., developed a new class of drugs broadly referred to as capsazepine analogs and tested them against oral and other types of cancers in preclinical and animal studies.

“Our main goal was to develop cancer-targeting drugs to effectively treat advanced and recurrent oral cancer,” said Dr. Gonzales, an associate professor in the School of Dentistry’s Department of Comprehensive Dentistry. “This is important because oral cancer is a deadly disease with a five-year survival rate of only 40 percent,” she said. “Oral cancer is rarely diagnosed in its earliest stages when it can be cured. About 75 percent of patients come to the clinic with advanced disease, dramatically lowering their chance of survival,” she said.

The team’s previous research showed that capsazepine is a potent cancer killer. Capsazepine is a synthetic cousin of capsaicin, the substance in chili peppers that gives them their heat. While studying oral cancer pain, Dr. Gonzales’ team discovered that capsazepine has significant cancer-fighting activity through a cancer-selective mechanism of action. In collaboration with the Center for Innovative Drug Discovery, a partnership of UT Health San Antonio and The University of Texas at San Antonio, more potent capsazepine analogs were developed with significantly stronger anti-cancer efficacy in mouse models of oral cancer and no adverse effects on healthy tissue.

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