Credit: Thomas Umstattd Jr.

A team of scientists from the Children's Medical Research Institute are working hard to unravel the structure of a protein present in 85 per cent of all cancers, in order to design a breakthrough drug to destroy cancer cells.

The drug is hoped to be able to stop a broad array of cancers, and is estimated to hit the market within a ten-year duration.

Dr Scott Cohen, lead researcher and his colleagues are studying the structure of telomerase, and enzyme that maintains cancer cells growth.

Telomerase, according to Dr Cohen, stimulates the proliferation of cancer cells.

He said if a drug is able to stop the function of telomerase and inhibit its activity, then we will be able to kill cancer cells.

Telomerase was first discovered by an Australian scientist Elizabeth Blackburn in 1984. To date, little is known about its structure.

According to Dr Cohen, if the structure of the enzyme is known, then that will set the stage that enables them to do a rational drug design.

He and his team of scientists are confident that they will get to it given time.

I'm pretty confident we will be successful, it's just a matter of when. We are at the cutting edge in this field ... and if we pull it off it will be a big day for Australian scientists, said Dr Cohen.

Other scientists from CSIRO and St Vincent's Institute are all working together -starting three years ago- to make sure they get to create the breakthrough cancer drug.

George Lovrecs, scientist for CSIRO compares the action of the cancer drug to the flu drug, Relenza - the first drug in the world that can attack an enzyme, which was pioneered in Australia.

A big problem is the manufacturing of the protein, as it does not occur in vast amounts naturally, said Prof Michael Parker from St Vincent's.

Prof Parker's primary function is to design the drug once they have figured out the structure of telomerase. Millions of potential drug structures would then be fitted into the three-dimensional telomerase structure to find its best fit.

Clinical trials for animals and humans will follow once the potential drug has been found.