Scientists have developed what is being seen as a groundbreaking "cancer-killing pill" — named in the honour of a nine-year-old girl who died of the deadly disease.

Researchers at City of Hope, a cancer research centre in the US, have come up with a "targeted chemotherapy" that appears to “annihilate” all solid tumours without affecting healthy cells, according to an official statement.

The drug has been in development for 20 years, and is now undergoing pre-clinical research in the US, Sky News reported.

The therapy is called AOH1996 — and uses the initials and the year of birth of Indiana's Anna Olivia Healey, who died in 2005 of a rare cancer, the statement added.

According to the City of Hope, AOH1996 works by targeting a cancerous variant of PCNA (proliferating cell nuclear antigen) and stops the growth and spread of human cancer cells. PCNA is a protein which, in its mutated form, is critical in the replication of DNA and repair of all expanding tumours.

Professor Linda Malkas of City of Hope's Department of Molecular Diagnostics and Experimental Therapeutics explained that most targeted cancer therapies tend to focus on a single pathway while treating the disease. Malkas added that AOH1996 enables the cancer to mutate and become resistant.

However, PCNA is “like a major airline terminal hub containing multiple plane gates,” said Malkas, who is also the senior author of the new study published in the journal Cell Chemical Biology. The study explains the functioning of cancer therapy.

Malkas said, “Data suggests PCNA is uniquely altered in cancer cells, and this fact allowed us to design a drug that targeted only the form of PCNA in cancer cells.” She added that the pill is “like a snowstorm that closes a key airline hub, shutting down all flights in and out only in planes carrying cancer cells”.

According to Malkas, AOH1996 has shown “promising results” and can suppress tumour growth “as a monotherapy or combination treatment in cell and animal models without resulting in toxicity”.

Researchers have observed that AOH1996 has been effective in treating cells derived from brain, prostate, breast, cervical, skin, and ovarian cancers in preclinical research.

“We were too late to help Anna, but we could help others like her,” Malkas said. “I always say when you see me, there’s a small nine-year-old girl sitting on my right shoulder. She’s my touchstone.”

Malkas, according to City of Hope, had met Anna’s father, Steve, just months before the little girl died.

Anna was born in 1996 in Indianapolis, US, and was suffering from neuroblastoma, a childhood cancer. Anna battled the disease for five years. She breathed her last in 2005.

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