New radioprotectors – protection from enemies on the outside and on the inside

Specialists from the All-Russia Research Institute of Experimental Physics and their colleagues, chemists from the Lomonosov Moscow State University and the St. Petersburg Chemistry and Pharmaceutical Academy are developing unique drugs that help to protect the human organism from the influence of ionizing radiation. Even now the scientists have revealed compounds, the radioprotective properties of which, under lower toxicity, exceed all those known previously. However, the research is not yet complete. The search continues for new radioprotectors, that are effective, harmless and inexpensive, and for compounds that are able to raise the efficacy of radiotherapy when treating oncological diseases. Experts from the International Science and Technology Centre have placed information on this incredibly important development on their website, in the Promising Research section.

So where is the novelty and where, even, is the uniqueness of this project? This is how the project manager, Candidate of Biology Inna Korzeneva, answers the question. “Although scientists both here and abroad conduct wide-ranging studies in the search for compounds that can protect humans and animals from ionising radiation, the results of this work have remained extremely modest. There are only single examples of known substances that could be seen as potentially suitable for practical use, and not one of them satisfies all requirements placed upon medicines.

Even the most effective of those radioprotectors that have been detected, particularly the basic radioprotector Cystamine, either do not have the required radioprotective activity, or they are too toxic. Furthermore, in the majority of cases these drugs possess a preventive (introduction before exposure) and not a treatment (introduction after irradiation) action.

We are proposing to expand the circle of compounds, where we reckon to find not only effective radioprotectors that have a preventive, therapeutic and immunomodulating effect, but radiosensitizing drugs, that is compounds that enable the intensification of the action of the ionizing radiation on the cells of malignant tumours. Here, we calculate that these new drugs will have high bioavailability, low toxicity and their synthesis will be fairly simple and fast, and that they could be made on the basis of domestic raw materials, which will ensure their relatively low cost.”

It should be said that the confidence of the scientists that the project will be a success is well justified. Already today the scientists have succeeded in synthesizing compounds, the clearly expressed radioprotective properties of which considerably exceed the efficacy of Cystamine (a substance for treating acute radiation sickness), active leukostimulants and anti-tumour drugs. Research on laboratory animals has proven convincingly that the use of certain new compounds really does help to either completely remove or significantly reduce mortality among irradiated animals and increase their life span. Incidentally, the doses of the new drugs, required to manifest radioprotective activity, are no higher and in certain cases actually lower than in traditionally used drugs. Furthermore, the researchers have also synthesized new immunomodulators, antioxidants and antihypoxants, the biological effects of which are comparable with or exceed the activity of known drugs, currently used in medical practice.

The next plans of the scientists involve the targeted revelation of several of the most promising drugs and the development of rapid, effective, few-stage and low-cost methods for their synthesis, and to make up the required number of drugs for preclinical trials. In order to reduce time and effort to a minimum in the search for new compounds with pre-set properties, the authors plan to develop a system of express-selection of radioprotectors and their directed synthesis on the basis of quantum-chemical calculations of the molecular and electronic structure of compounds, that is to bring in computer modelling methods.

The authors have already received their first results; the level of qualification of the researchers working on the project is incredibly high. Therefore, there should be no doubt that with the necessary level of financing, preparations to protect people from ionizing radiation (people who, by way of their occupation face the risk of exposure, including atomic power station employees, radioactive waste reprocessing plant operatives and finally cosmonauts) will be not only developed, but also synthesized in the required quantities. The same applies to drugs for the radiotherapy of oncological diseases, which are able to effectively combat with the tumour cells, without causing considerable harm to the healthy cells. It comes down to a question of financing.

The authors are likewise confident that there will be a healthy return on investment in an economic sense. They believe that the low number of stages, the use of inexpensive and available raw material, high output, low labour intensity and so on will enable a considerable reduction in the price of the end product as compared with existing analogues, as a minimum by 100 Euros per 1 kg of end product.

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