Researchers find cancer-fighting potential in non-cancer drugs

A first-of-its-kind study reaps a huge haul of cancer killing compounds already found in many pharmacies.

cancer killer

Medicines often prescribed for diabetes, inflammation and even one that treats osteoporosis in dogs, can also kill cancer cells in the laboratory, according to an exciting new study.

US researchers tested the cancer-fighting properties of more than 4500 non-cancer drugs and found that nearly 50 drugs typically used for other conditions also had some cancer-killing abilities.

Existing drugs were systematically analysed for anti-cancer capability – and the researchers discovered 49 medicines that not only neutralised cancer cells but left healthy cells unharmed.

“We found that a surprising number of non-oncology drugs are able to kill cancer cell lines in the lab,” said Dr Steven Corsello of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard University.

Dr Corsello co-founded the MIT Broad Institute’s Drug Repurposing Hub. The ‘Hub’ is a repository for more than 6000 compounds – many of which are already approved by the US Federal Food & Drug Administration (FDA) and are available to consumers. It tests these drugs to see if some may prove to be effective in treating conditions not originally targeted by researchers and developers.

It can take a decade of lab work and clinical trials for a new drug to come on the market. The hub investigates whether drugs already shown to be safe for human consumption can be repurposed to treat other conditions.

The latest experiment used molecular barcoding technology called PRISM (profiling relative inhibition simultaneously in mixtures) to screen more than 4500 existing compounds against 578 different types of cancer cell lines.

It was the first time researchers screened the entire collection of mostly non-cancer drugs for their anti-cancer capabilities. The results were published in Nature Cancer.

“We tested 4518 compounds in this experiment in total,” said Dr Corsello. “We found 49 non-oncology drugs that were able to selectively kill cancer cell lines – killing some but not other cancers, which is an ideal property.

“We thought we’d be lucky if we found even a single compound with anti-cancer properties, but we were surprised to find so many,” said director of the Cancer Program at the Broad Institute Dr Todd Golub.

They found that some of the compounds killed cancer cells in unexpected ways.

“Most existing cancer drugs work by blocking proteins, but we’re finding that compounds can act through other mechanisms,” said Dr Corsello.

“We created the Repurposing Hub to enable researchers to make these kinds of serendipitous discoveries in a more deliberate way.

“In general, though, these kinds of discoveries are accidental.”

One of these ‘accidents’ involved the drug tepoxalin, originally developed for use in people but later approved for treating osteoarthritis in dogs, which also attacks a target called MDR1 which is expressed on the surface of cells and protects them from chemotherapy.

Patients who develop resistance to chemotherapy often have high levels of this protein.

Antabuse, a drug approved to treat alcohol dependence, may also attack a protein that commonly occurs in some breast cancers, while a compound originally developed to treat diabetes called vanadium, and levonorgestrel, a hormone used in contraceptives, also showed anti-cancer properties.

These drugs will now undergo further testing to better understand how they attacked and killed cancer cells.

“Our understanding of how these drugs kill cancer cells gives us a starting point for developing new therapies,” said Dr Corsello.

Does this study excite you? Do you think it’s possible that we could soon see more affordable cancer fighting medicines?

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21st Feb 2020
Not if Big Pharma has anything to do with it, how many cures have been discovered but never heard of again.
21st Feb 2020
Got to be positive, no other way to live, there always has been, and always will be those who make money out of human illness' I guess you could say "it's their job".

I guess some are not honest I'd say a tiny minority!

But the goodies discover things and it costs money and time, and not everyone is a shonk, if you go through life not checking out everything before you use it , you might get done over.

Even the medical profession has to take a risk and test the science.
If you don't trust anybody, you'd never buy a car?????
21st Feb 2020
Cancer prevention should be studied more, but then no one can get the research funding because there is no money in that.
ray @ Bondi
21st Feb 2020
cheaper, you must be joking viagra was initially going to be blood pressure medication sold for a modest price I imagine, the cost now far outweighs its value (unless you need it :) ) if there is something found it will be repacked at a very expensive price, that is the way of the western economic world we live in.

21st Feb 2020
Sounds like a good idea, however first I would like these drug companies to be more honest about listing ALL side-effects. For example:

a. Statins - Overseas there have been a couple of major studies (UK & USA) linking statins for a small percentage of people to knee osteoarthritis, however the drug literature completely ignores it, and all doctors ignore these complaints and push people on to statins, and finally off to the knee surgeon! They all win, not the patient!

b. A simple thing like a high dose of Vitamin C (e.g. 1000 or 2000mg/day) can cause osteoarthritis, again as per studies on the internet, yet no one will tell you that.

Medical bodies need to be much more vigilant about this issue.
21st Feb 2020
Do you mean that Vitamin C can cure osteo? My mum was prescribed Lyrica for a pain in her leg, side effects: suicidal thoughts, depression and anxiety. She was looking for a cure not a pain killer, luckily she threw the prescription away and asked to see a physio instead.
22nd Feb 2020
No, it wasn't a typo. There is information on the internet about large doses of Vitamin C causes or at least aggravates knee osteoarthritis with increased knee pain. It is due to the acidic chemical in it.
However people who want to promote Vit C may tell you the exact opposite (some such comments on the internet too)!

Yes, my point was exactly that - one has to watch for side-effects which the doctors may not tell you (they may not know) and are not mentioned in the drug literature.
22nd Feb 2020
Thanks for the clarification GeorgeM, I was a bit perplexed, I can understand that any high dosages of "artificial" vitamins could be dangerous, getting it from food is more important.
I have read that dairy can aggravate osteo too.
21st Feb 2020
Many people use "Black Salve" to treat skin cancers and even tumours in Glands, yet the AMA are apopletic and have caused legislation with ridiculously huge fines.
They claim it is not standardised but if that were true they would work to get it standardised, not just try to wipe it out, - the which they can't do because it is so amazingly successful.
This new approach sounds good.
21st Feb 2020
Anything that works is pushed back and blocked because the medical industry is making too much money on cancers.

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