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New drug hope for leukaemia

A NEW drug to treat leukaemia, being developed by Irish scientists, is reducing the risk of a relapse for patients.

The drug targets the disease as it circulates in the bloodstream and also kills it in the lymph nodes.

A team at University College Galway has been researching the new drug for two-and-a-half years and patient trials are already under way.

The drug has been found to kill leukaemia cells circulating in the blood, including cells which are often resistant to chemotherapy.

It also targets dividing leukaemia cells in the lymph nodes. With current standard treatment, these cells can act like a reservoir of resistant cells which can then lead to relapse.

The prototype drug has been tested on blood samples from patients with chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL).

"Generally the prognosis for patients diagnosed with CLL -- one of the commonest types of blood cancer -- is not as positive as we would like," said Prof Corrado Santocanale, who works at the College National Centre for Biomedical Engineering.

"However these laboratory results provide some hope for the future."

The Galway team is working to understand the underlying cellular and molecular mechanisms which trigger and contribute to the progression of cancer.

Frank Giles, Professor of Cancer Therapeutics says: "The conduct of these early studies is a top priority for our NUI Galway clinical research facilities and demonstrates Ireland's increasing strength in this critical biomedical sector."

The Department of Health and Children has awarded €7.5m, through the Health Research Board , to fund construction of a new building at the College which will be fully operational in 2012.

This will provide Galway with world class facilities for researchers and industry and will enhance research development capacity in the medical device and pharmaceutical sectors.

csheehy@herald.ie