In tests on mice, inositol pentakisphosphate inhibited the enzyme phosphoinositide 3-kinase, which plays a key role in stimulating the growth of tumours, reports the team led by Dr Marco Falasca at the University College of London's Sackler Institute.
"We've been working for eight years on this molecule," Dr Falasca told NutraIngredients.com.
While his team has shown anti-cancer activity in cells, the new study published in today's issue of Cancer Research, is the first to demonstrate the same findings in a more complex animal stystem.
"Looking at cells is a very simple process but when you move onto a more complex system like mice, the implications have a much larger value," added Dr Falasca.
He said his team will be looking for funding for a human clinical trial to confirm their results.
While the priority for the researchers is in synthesising the compound and developing it as a drug, their results also offer support for a diet rich in beans, nuts, lentils and peas.
"In foods there is a relatively high amount of this compound so this is more evidence that foods can be chemopreventive," said Dr Falasca.
"But to really prove this we have to test the foods themselves," he added.
Nuts and beans have previously been shown to contain other anti-cancer compounds. For example, nuts are rich in resveratrol that is a powerful inhibitor of cancer cells. There could therefore be a synergy between multiple anti-cancer compounds in such foods.
The UCL team also reported on a synergy between inositol pentakisphosphate and anti-cancer drugs.
The phosphate enhanced the effect of cytotoxic drugs in ovarian and lung cancer cells and could therefore be used to sensitize cancer cells to the commonly used anti-cancer drugs, believe the researchers.
Drug developers have been searching for a compound that blocks phosphoinositide 3-kinase but they have had difficulties finding an inhibitor that is both stable and non-toxic.
The inositol phosphate agent was confirmed to be non-toxic even at higher concentrations.