Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Breakthrough Cancer-Targeting Compound Developed by UF Researchers

Revolutionizing cancer treatment: UF researchers unveil YX968, a game-changing compound targeting cancer proteins. A new era in cancer therapy.

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In a significant stride towards advancing cancer treatment, a team of medicinal chemists and cancer biologists from the University of Florida (UF) has successfully engineered a potent and selective chemical compound, YX968. This compound, part of a group of compounds known as proteolysis-targeting chimeras (PROTACs), exhibits the ability to target and eliminate proteins that are responsible for fueling the growth of cancer cells. This innovative development has garnered attention for its potential as a powerful tool in the fight against cancer, with its specific targeting mechanism aiming to minimize harm to healthy gene expression. 

Research Overview

The research, led by Daiqing Liao, Ph.D., an associate professor in the department of anatomy and cell biology at the UF College of Medicine, and co-senior author of the study, focused on creating a compound that could effectively degrade histone deacetylases (HDACs) in cancer cells, specifically HDAC3 and HDAC8. These enzymes play a pivotal role in modifying proteins and expressing genetic information within cells. By employing a targeted approach to degrade these enzymes, the researchers aimed to disrupt the cancer cell growth process without compromising healthy cell function.

YX968’s Potency and Selectivity

The key finding of the study was the remarkable potency and selectivity of the YX968 compound. The researchers observed that only a small amount of YX968 was required to achieve the desired effect of degrading the target proteins. Furthermore, YX968 exhibited an impressive level of selectivity, targeting the HDAC3 and HDAC8 enzymes while avoiding any detectable degradation of other HDACs. The study employed quantitative experiments to confirm the compound’s selectivity, providing a strong foundation for its potential application in cancer treatment.

PROTACs: A New Frontier in Cancer Treatment

PROTACs, the class of compounds to which YX968 belongs, represent a promising avenue in cancer therapy. These compounds function as matchmakers, bringing together specific proteins to initiate the degradation of target proteins. Unlike traditional inhibitors that only inhibit the target, PROTACs offer a dual-functionality by both blocking the target’s actions and triggering the cell’s natural waste-clearing process. This approach not only enhances the efficiency of protein degradation but also presents an advantage over conventional genetic editing methods due to its controlled and rapid degradation mechanism.

Clinical Implications and Future Prospects

With approximately 20 PROTACs undergoing clinical trials and more in development, the potential of compounds like YX968 to revolutionize cancer treatment is substantial. The researchers envision YX968 as a powerful cancer-fighting tool that can effectively combat cancer without resulting in excessive toxicity. While the study’s focus was on triple-negative breast cancer, the impact of this research extends to other types of cancer in which HDAC3 and HDAC8 are implicated.

The team’s current efforts are geared towards refining the compound’s design to enhance its drug-like properties, facilitating testing in animal models. The ultimate goal is to progress towards human clinical trials, a process that typically spans several years to ensure safety and effectiveness. The development of YX968 also holds promise in aiding other research laboratories to better understand the biology of HDAC3 and HDAC8, thereby guiding the creation of new therapeutic interventions.

Research Funding

The study received support from the UF Health Cancer Center through a pilot grant and funding from the Florida Department of Health James and Esther King Biomedical Research Program. These funding sources play a critical role in advancing scientific breakthroughs that could ultimately transform cancer treatment strategies.


The creation of YX968, a potent and selective cancer-targeting compound, represents a remarkable achievement in the field of cancer research. UF’s team of medicinal chemists and cancer biologists have demonstrated the potential of PROTACs in effectively targeting and degrading proteins responsible for cancer cell growth. The compound’s specificity and potency hold promise in minimizing harm to healthy gene expression and reducing potential toxic effects. As research progresses, the application of YX968 and similar compounds may pave the way for safer and more effective cancer therapies, bringing us closer to overcoming one of humanity’s most challenging medical adversaries.

Zarin Tasmin Aaiman
Student, University of Dhaka


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