Scientists discover 49 approved drugs that may treat cancer


New cancer treatments might already be in your medicine cabinet, a new study suggests. 

Scientists at Harvard, Massachusetts University of Technology and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute have identified 49 existing drugs with potential to kill tumor cells. 

The drugs range from medication used to treat osteoarthritis in dogs to an alcohol dependence drug for people. 

While some of the compounds the team discovered are early starting places for the development of new drugs, others may be soon be ready to test in people. 

Developing new drugs is costly and can take years, if not decades and cost hundreds of millions of dolalrs. 

So it behooves scientists to periodically check that compounds haven’t already been synthesized. 

The new team, spread across three institutions, screened 4,518 drugs approved used to treat conditions other than cancers, including some used to treat dogs. 

‘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 Dr Todd Golub, study co-author and cancer and pediatrics scientist working out of all three institutes. 

Namely, 49 drugs. 

Chemotherapy, which is still the standard treatment for most forms of cancers, treats the disease by attacking proteins called enzymes that fuel cell division and allow tumors to grow and spread. 

But these enzymes are by no means the only thing that fuel cancer cells. 

And scientists are increasingly exploring these new targets, including by simply seeing what existing drugs can do to tumors. 

In the course of their new study, published in the journal Nature Cancer, the researchers found that many non-cancer drugs act on tumor cells in different ways. 

‘Most existing cancer drugs work by blocking proteins, but we’re finding that compounds can act through other mechanisms,’ said Dr Steven Corsello, an oncologist at Dana-Farber Institute and a research scientist at Broad. 

Four drugs were particularly promising, including an anti-inflammatory used to treat arthritis in dogs, a drug initially made to treat diabetes, and Antabuse, a drug used to treat alcohol dependence. 

In lab tests, the first drug, called tepoxalin, acted on a component of cancer cells that often drives resistance to chemotherapy. 

The second, a diabetes drug that employs a metal called vanadium targeted a protein, but not one usually aimed at by cancer treatments. 

Finally, Antabuse, a drug used to treat alcohol dependence, ‘has been around for decades, and is available as an inexpensive generic medication and was more active against cancers that have lost a part of a chromosome,’ Dr Corsello told 

This happens with regularity in breast and other cancers, and the mutation can make the diseases harder to treat. 

Dr Corsello says that there’s still a great deal of lab testing to be done before the drugs are ready for human trials, though Antabuse could potentially reach that point within a year or two. 

Still, that’s far faster than the typical pipeline of drug development. Jumping that line by using existing drugs to make cancer treatments could save lives, he says. 

‘As an oncologist, I see first-hand every week in clinic the need for new cancer treatments, but development from scratch can take up to a decade,’ said Dr Corsello. 

‘Those [existing drugs]can be brought to more clinical trials more quickly and potentially benefit patients.’  






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