Findings of a clinical trial recently showed how a compound produced by caterpillar fungus could contribute to the efficacy of an anti-cancer drug.

An IFL Science report specified that the molecule that exists in a parasitic Himalayan fungus had been discovered to destroy cancer cells in the said clinical trial's Phase I, bringing hopes that it may offer a foundation for more effective treatments against cancer.

Identified as "cordycepin," the said compound, as mentioned, is produced by caterpillar fungus, described as "infamous" for its weakness for killing and mummifying moth larvae.

Cordycepin, which is also known as 3'-deoxyadenosine or 3'-dA, belongs to a classification of antibacterial or antiviral agents. Such agents are called nucleoside analogs, which are observed as highly promising contenders for new cancer drugs.

Regarded as a powerful or effective antioxidant, 3'-dA has been known as a staple for a traditional Chinese drug for hundreds of years.

In relation to this, caterpillar fungus is also described by Utah State University's Department of Biology as an effective cure for anemia, cough, tuberculosis, and knee and back pains, among others.

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Science Times - Caterpillar Fungus May Help Kill Tumor Cells; Clinical Trial Results Reveal Presence of Molecule That Can Be Used as Anti-Cancer Drug
(Photo : Nicolas Merky - Nicolas Merky on Wikimedia Commons)
Cordyceps sinensis

Challenges with Cordycepin

The big problem with cordycepin is that it has an extremely low bioavailability which means it's not easily finding its way to cancer cells when consumed in its natural form.

This is due to the fact that it is broken down by an enzyme identified as "adenosine deaminase" or ADA within few minutes of going into the bloodstream.

The 3'-dA, if it stayed intact, cannot penetrate tumor cells on its own, and needs the support of hENT1, a nucleoside transport transporter.

Once it's inside a cell, cordycepin needs to be metabolized by an enzyme known as ADK or adenosine kinase before it can exert its anti-cancer impacts.

The ProTide Technology

To solve the challenges, a research team had the cordycepin modified through the use of ProTide technology. The process involves adding a shielding phosphoramidate cap to a molecule, so it will resist being broken down before reaching its target inside the body. 

The researchers revealed that their altered compound known as NUC-7738 disables the cancer resistance mechanisms that restrict the 3'-dA's activity.

In the study published in the Clinical Cancer Research journal, the researchers noticed that ProTide NUC-7738 is resistant to ADA degradation.

They also observed that it is capable of "releasing active 3-dAMP into cells" where it is quickly converted to a primary anti-cancer metabolite.

Essentially, this anti-tumor compound stated active for approximately 50 hours and was shown to be from seven to 40 times more effective compared to natural cordycepin at killing a range of various cancer cells

Molecular Analyses

The researchers provided the drugs to cancer patients with advanced, treatment-reluctant tumors. The study investigators noted that the compound is "well-tolerated." It has demonstrated encouraging indications of anti-cancer activity.

In addition, molecular analyses revealed that the drug seems to induce cancer cell death, mainly by disrupting fundamental signaling pathways that allow for the proliferation of such cells.

Lastly, there's still some way to go before NUC-7738 will be available as a treatment for cancer. The researchers are still planning their Phase II clinical trial and they believe that their newly developed drug may one day offer a life-saving solution for cancer patients all over the world.

Related information about caterpillar fungus is shown on WildFilmsIndia's YouTube video below:


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