Accidental potential breakthrough in new cancer drug development

Researchers at Victoria University of Wellington have made a potential breakthrough in the development of a new cancer drug - but the discovery was accidental.

It's labs like the one at Victoria University where many new cancer drugs emerge, and researcher Joanne Harvey says it can be a long process.

"It actually takes about 15 years to get a drug from this kind of stage to the market," she says.

It's already taken five years to get to this stage after the accidental discovery of a new lead in the search for cancer treatments.

"Serendipity and science and just accidental discoveries are so common in science," says Harvey.

Accidental because the team was trying to synthesise a natural compound found in some fungi - known to target some types of cancer.

But instead, they created alternatives which they've discovered can inhibit another key cancer enzyme, BTK.

"Being able to inhibit this enzyme is important for treatment of a couple of leukaemias," Harvey says.

That's caught the attention of haemotologist Dr Rob Weinkove.

He says these types of inhibitors have been hugely successful in treating certain cancers - and more medicines are always needed.

"Obviously there are many people for whom we don't have the right drugs now. What I'd like to see is more competition and more options available," Dr Weinkove.

It's still very early days - and years away from even getting to the clinical trial stage. The goal now is about modifying the science to make a more potent treatment.

"There are so many stages where a drug can fail so we do have to be realistic about that," Harvey says.