Devil tumour drug success

Posted by Big Rat on Campus on Nov 17, 2013 in Rat News | Subscribe

A WONDER drug, extracted from the seeds of a rare Queensland rainforest shrub, has caused facial tumours on Tasmanian devils to shrink and disappear.

The drug, known as EBC-46, has landed a heavy punch on the devil facial tumour disease’s aggressive tumours, which threaten to drive Tasmanian devils extinct without human intervention.

Supplied by Queensland bio-technology company Qbiotics, the drug was injected into the tumours of four captured devils with advanced disease on their faces, tails or necks.

Within 40 days, the tumours had shrunk and, in some cases, had gone into remission.

But the devils, treated at the Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment’s Launceston laboratories, were not cured.

Qbiotics chief scientific officer Paul Reddell said that by the time tumours became obvious on devils’ faces, the disease had typically spread throughout the animals’ bodies.

Dr Reddell said he could see no way in which the drug could cure devils in the wild but it was a means of increasing the life expectancy of diseased devils in captivity by as much as six months as well as improving quality of life.

He said, significantly, the drug could give diseased females a better chance at giving birth in captivity before succumbing to the disease, which could facilitate the inclusion of important genetic lineages into breeding programs.

Dr Reddell said EBC-46 had previously proved effective at shrinking cancers in companion animals such as dogs, cats, horses, pet rats and guinea pigs.

“We are delighted that our drug offers new hope for the treatment of individual diseased devils, where there is currently none,” he said.

“This is a remarkable result for this very aggressive disease as no other chemotherapy agents tried previously have shown any efficacy against devil facial tumour disease.”

Dr Reddell said the extract from the blushwood plant, found only on Queensland’s Atherton Tableland, could be trialled on humans as a cancer treatment as soon as this year.

The company has established plantations of the shrub to produce the anti-cancer drug, in the same way that the Tasmanian poppy industry produced painkiller ingredients.

EBC-46 has a unique way of killing tumours.

It induces the host animal to cut off the tumours’ blood supply.

The preliminary devil study was carried out by the department’s vets as part of the State Government’s Save the Tasmanian Devil Program.

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