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Selectively targeting cancer using peptides

Curtin is seeking drug development partners for this project. The ideal partner is capable of completing preclinical testing in conjunction with Curtin and selecting a lead drug candidate for commencement of phase 1 clinical trials in patients.


Summary of technology

Cancer stem cells (CSCs) play a significant role in a wide range of cancers, causing both therapy resistance and tumour recurrence. Cancers associated with poor response to treatments and high rates of incidence, such as brain, breast, lung, gastrointestinal, prostate, and ovarian tumours, have been shown to be characterised by the presence of CSCs.

Researchers at Curtin have identified a therapeutic strategy to target CSCs, using peptides that act as inhibitors of the WNT signalling pathway. This pathway is crucial for cancer cell survival and disrupting it can inhibit proliferation of cancer cells and CSCs, and initiate their programmed cell death.

A library of peptides derived from sFRP4, a protein which occurs naturally in the body, has been shown to selectively target tumour cells and CSCs, having little effect on normal cells. With selectivity of action against abnormal cells, it is anticipated that the peptides will not have a damaging side effect profile, unlike existing chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatments.

These peptides are candidates for the development of a new anticancer drug treatment that may be used in combination with existing cancer therapies.


The peptide drug candidates offer the following advantages:

  • a library of peptides from which to select a lead
  • selective targeting of tumour cells and CSCs only
  • can be used in combination with current therapies
  • could help overcome therapy resistance and tumour recurrence.


Professor Arunasalam Dharmarajan is a highly respected researcher, with a strong track record of publications in cell biology and cancer, and inventor of a granted US patent for a cancer treatment. Professor Dharmarajan has previously held academic positions at The University of Western Australia and Johns Hopkins University.

Stage of development

Screening of the library of peptides against CSC lines from brain tumour (glioblastoma type), breast cancer, and head and neck tumours has shown a marked increase in inhibition of cell viability compared to treatment with gold standard chemotherapy. For example, U87 glioblastoma cell viability was inhibited by 40 per cent by temozolomide, and 70 per cent by temozolomide in combination with SC-301, a peptide candidate from the library.

In vitro testing showing the CSCs’ inhibition by the peptides has been completed in a broad range of cancer types, also including prostate, lung, and ovary tumours, with plans to commence testing in industry standard animal models next.