A new blood test that detects changes in the levels of metabolites in the blood can help identify if a new smart cancer drug is doing its job or not, a new study has revealed.

Researchers from The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) in London postulated that cancer drugs affect the amount of metabolites present in the blood of patients which could be used as a gauge whether the drug is effective in targeting cancer cells. Metabolites serve as the segments that make up proteins and fats.

For their study, the researchers analyzed 180 blood markers. They found that the assortment of the metabolites provides an accurate assessment of the vulnerability of the cancer cells in 41 patients diagnosed with advanced cancers and who were given pictilisib.

Pictilisib is a smart drug developed to target the PI3 kinase (PI3K) molecular pathway of tumor cells. The said pathway is responsible for cell metabolism and is known to be greatly affected in a wide range of cancers. The researchers noted that cancers with the PI3K defect have lower levels of blood metabolites.

The present research is the first to demonstrate that metabolite levels can be used as a cancer therapy marker both in mice study and clinical trials.

During the mice study, the researchers were able to increase the presence of 26 metabolites in the bloodstream of mice that were given pictilisib. This means that the drug reverses cancer in the metabolites of the mice.

In the clinical trials, 22 out of the 26 metabolites increased in response to pictilisib treatment. The change in the metabolite level was noted after one dose of the drug was given. A resultant decrease, however, was noted when the drug was stopped. This signifies the change in metabolite level is secondary to the introduction of pictilisib.

Researchers acknowledge that the levels of metabolites can also be affected by the time of consumption and the quantity of food taken by the patients. Despite this, they believe that their study still provides significant evidence that the metabolites can be an effective marker.

ICR Clinical Pharmacology and Trials Team senior researcher Florence Raynaud said that although the method was initially developed for monitoring the effects of pictilisib, it could also be useful for different cancer therapies.

Paul Workman, co-author and ICR chief executive, said that metabolites can help researchers in making informed decisions regarding development of therapies immediately.

"Our method could eventually be used to monitor patients routinely during the course of treatment, as a quick and easy way of assessing whether a drug is still working, or whether treatment needs to be adapted," said Workman.

An earlier research used peptides to monitor the path of chemotherapy drugs as a means to identify if the drug works or not.

The study is published in Molecular Cancer Therapeutics.

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