Researchers have captured how a new organo-metal compound infiltrates cancer cells and destroys its most vulnerable organelle: the mitochondria.
The organo-metal compound, called FY26, is a rare precious metal known as osmium. It was discovered by scientists at the University of Warwick, who previously reported that the metal seemed to shift the metabolism in ovarian cancer cells. In particular, the metal compound stresses cancer cells to use their defective mitochondria, which is a death sentence for these cells.
"Healthy cells generate their energy in organelles called mitochondria, but cancer cells have defective mitochondria and are forced to generate energy through glycolysis in the cytoplasm. Our new compounds work by attacking the energy balance in cancer cells,” explained Dr. Peter Sadler, a professor a the University of Warwick, and the study’s senior author.
In their latest study, Sadler’s team was able to capture just how FY26 targets cancer cells from the inside. They used X-ray fluorescence to track the compound directly to the mitochondria of cancer cells.
"The advanced nano-focussed x-ray beam at ESRF has not only allowed us to locate the site of action of our novel Organo-Osmium FY26 candidate drug in cancer cells at unprecedented resolution, but also study the movement of natural metals such as zinc and calcium in cells. Such studies open up totally new approaches to drug discovery and treatment,” Dr. Sadler said.
In particular, FY26 is reportedly 49 times more potent than Cisplatin - a common platinum-based chemotherapeutic agent. "Existing platinum-based cancer treatments often become less effective after the first course, as cancer cells learn how they are being attacked, but our new osmium compound with its different mechanism of action, remains active against cancer cells that have become resistant to drugs such as Cisplatin,” said Sadler.
The team also argue that, in addition to the higher potency and selectivity, osmium-based drugs may be cheaper to produce overall. "Cancer drugs with new mechanisms of actions which can combat resistance and have fewer side-effects are urgently needed,” Sadler noted.
Of note, the compound was only tested in ovarian cancer cells and with much higher doses than would be typically used in a clinical setting. As such, further investigations into how FY26 behaves in live animal systems are important to determine if this drug will be appropriate for cancer patients.
Additional sources: MNT