Plant and Food-Based Compounds May be Key to Future Cancer Prevention and Anti-Cancer Therapies, Says Moffitt Cancer Center Researcher

November 18, 2015

TAMPA, Fla. – Advancements in precision medicine have led to many new targeted cancer therapies for cancer patients. These treatments focus on using agents that target one or two genes that contribute to tumor development. The approach tends to be more effective against cancer cells and less toxic toward normal cells than standard chemotherapeutic regimens.

However, while new precision medicine treatments have increased the lifespan of many patients with cancer, the majority of patients eventually relapse, with some patients only achieving remission for a few months. Additionally, these novel targeted agents are also associated with significant toxicity and exorbitant costs. These limitations are particularly troubling for less-developed countries.

With that in mind, Getting to Know Cancer, a non-profit organization based in Canada, sponsored The Halifax Project, an international task force to develop a new approach to cancer prevention and therapeutics.  Nagi B. Kumar, Ph.D., R.D., F.A.D.A., director of Cancer Chemoprevention at Moffitt Cancer Center, was one of 180 scientists who participated in the task force.

Rather than targeting one or two specific genes or proteins that contribute to cancer, the task force was charged with researching a broad-spectrum approach. “This type of approach involves combinations of multiple low-toxicity agents that can collectively impact many pathways that are known to be important for the genesis and spread of cancer,” said Kumar. 

The task force focused on chemicals derived from plants and foods that have been studied for cancer prevention and treatment. These agents tend to be less toxic than drugs that are currently being used in the clinic or in development.  The scientists prioritized agents that had the greatest potential activity against tumors, those that were less expensive, and those that were free from intellectual property constraints.

The research teams proposed the inclusion of 74 different cellular targets involved in the development of cancer, and compiled a list of agents from plant and food-based chemicals and approaches that may be most effective when used in combination against those targets.  Some of the agents included green tea catechins, isoflavones,  lycopene, luteolin, anthocyanins and curcumin- which are currently being tested in clinical trials by Dr. Kumar and her team at Moffitt. .

The organizers were encouraged by the consensus among the scientists and hope that their efforts will lead to improved treatments for cancer patients who develop resistance to standard therapies and relapse.

The task force emphasized that the future advancement of these non-toxic agents in combination requires both interdisciplinary and international collaboration.  They called for an increase in advocacy and financial support for this approach.

The results of The Halifax Project were published in the Dec. issue of Seminars in Cancer Biology.

About Moffitt Cancer Center

Located in Tampa, Moffitt is one of only 45 National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Centers, a distinction that recognizes Moffitt’s excellence in research, its contributions to clinical trials, prevention and cancer control. Moffitt is the top-ranked cancer hospital in Florida and has been listed in U.S. News & World Report as one of the “Best Hospitals” for cancer care since 1999. With more than 4,600 team members, Moffitt has an economic impact in the state of $1.9 billion. For more information, visit, and follow the Moffitt momentum on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.