Derivatives of the cannabis plant (hashish) have been shown by a Hebrew University of Jerusalem Ph.D. student to be effective in arresting cancerous growths in laboratory and animal tests.
For her work, Natalya Kogan was one of the winners of a Kaye Innovation Award, presented today during the 68th meeting of the Hebrew University Board of governors.
Working under the supervision of Prof. Raphael Mechoulam at the Hebrew University School of Pharmacy (in collaboration with Prof. Michael Schlesinger at the Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical School and Prof. Ester Priel at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev), Kogan has developed new compounds – known as quinonoid cannabinoids – that parallel in their activity a group of anti-cancer drugs, the best known of which is daunomycin.
However, while daunomycin is toxic to the heart, Kogan, with Dr. Ronen Beeri and Dr. Gergana Marincheva of Hadassah University Hospital, Ein Kerem, found that the quinonoid cannabinoids are much less cardiotoxic. The development of quinonoid compounds that display anticancer activity, but are less toxic, is a major therapeutic goal. At present, Kogan is continuing to investigate the mechanism of action of these promising compounds.
All of the compounds synthesized by Kogan inhibited cancer cell growth in cell culture, and one of them was found to markedly reduce the volume of tumors in animal studies The cannabinoid quinones were found to act through a rather unique pathway of cancer cell destruction -- by specific inhibition of topoisomerase II, an enzyme that participates in cell replication. Most of the known anti-cancer drugs are less selective, acting by numerous mechanisms.
Additionally, the most active compound in the series developed by Kogan, as well as some other cannabinoids, were found by Kogan and Prof. Ruth Galilli of the Hebrew University to have anti-angiogenic properties. Angiogenesis, the process of new blood vessel formation, is crucial for tumor growth, and much effort has been invested by researchers in the development of compounds with anti-angiogenic activity.
Since the compounds developed by Kogan have anti-cancer properties and are more selective and potent than standard chemotherapy drugs, they have a high potential for use in new anti-cancer drugs
Kogan was born in 1980 in Cherkassy, Ukraine, and immigrated to Israel in 1995. She earned B.Pharm and M.Sc degrees at the Hebrew University School of Pharmacy and graduated with excellence.
She has received numerous prior awards: the Wolf Prize for junior investigators (2005); the Keren Kayemet prize (2005); and a Best Poster Award at the 2004 Symposium of the International Cannabinoids Research Society. Her Ph.D. work is supported by a personal award (for high grades and research achievements) from the Canadian Friends of the Hebrew University. The Kaye Innovation Awards at the Hebrew University have been awarded annuallysince 1994. Isaac Kaye of England, a prominent industrialist in the pharmaceutical industry, established the awards to encourage faculty, staff, and students of the University to develop innovative methods and inventions with good commercial potential which have benefited or will benefit the University and society.