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Instead of aiming at specific targets in cancer therapy, researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, and Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York are trying a more general approach, UCSF says in a press release. In a new paper in Nature, researchers from both institutions describe their new drug discovery approach, which they call a "magic shotgun" rather than a "magic bullet." Rather than looking for compounds that attack one gene or protein involved in a type of cancer, the new approach looks for compounds that "broadly disrupt the whole diseases process," UCSF says. The team says it has already identified two potential compounds that are more effective and less toxic than the FDA-approved thyroid cancer drug vandetanib.

Using fruit flies, the team screened compounds to find ones capable of disrupting an entire network of genes while leaving genes and proteins outside the network alone, UCSF says. UCSF researcher Kevan Shokat says that the problem with most targeted cancer drugs is that they attack proteins that are similar to normal proteins, which causes side effects. By inhibiting an entire disease network instead of a single target, he adds, "that gives us a much, much better ability to stop the cancer without causing as many side effects."

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