Researchers have ascertained that the anti-tapeworm drug, nitazoxanide (NTZ), may also hold out hope as a precision therapy for various cancers.
Prostate and colon cancer cells contain high amounts of activated beta-catenin, which correlate to treatment-resistant cancer cells and other oncological parameters. In a study of the cancer-abetting potential of several non-cancer-designated drugs, a team led by Norwegian scientists discovered that NTZ, a well-known and approved anti-parasite drug, decomposed activated beta-catenin.
“We discovered that this specific substance is blocking the signaling pathway in the cancer cells… It is not often that researchers discover a substance that targets specific molecules as precisely as this one,” says University of Bergen Professor Karl-Henning Kalland, the leader of the team responsible for the finding
Speaking of the considerable advantages associated with repurposing drugs which have already undergone rigorous clinical trials and obtained a regulatory green-light, “the advantage of testing already approved drugs is that we know they work in the human body and have no serious side effects, which means that a future treatment may happen quicker,” Dr. Kalland explains.
Repurposed drugs are not uncommon. The erectile dysfunction treatment, Viagra, was initially intended as a high blood pressure medication. The drug, thalidomide, first conceived as a sedative before it was discovered to cause catastrophic birth defects, is now accepted as a treatment for leprosy and multiple myeloma
By hindering activated beta-catenin, NTZ also shows signs of stimulating central parts of the immune system. Immunotherapy, a particularly promising and rapidly developing field of medicine, seeks to enhance and enable patients’ own defenses to recognize and successfully attack cancers and other diseases. Such treatments can be particularly beneficial in battling ailments, not the least due to advantages associated with minimized to negligible side effects, and drug resistance being overcome
“At the moment, we are working on how to strengthen the body’s immune defense against prostate cancer by using the mechanisms we discovered (pertaining to) NTZ,” Dr. Kalland says.
Unrelated to the Norwegian team’s work, but too exemplifying other exciting developments in the field of oncological immunotherapy, efforts at Virginia Commonwealth University led by National Foundation for Cancer Research-sponsored scientist, Paul B. Fisher, are underway. There, a team is exploring a viral-based immunotherapy for cancer patients who have few other choices of treatment. Dr. Fisher is exploring a potentially paradigm-shifting technique whereby a genetically engineered virus seeks out, finds and delivers a gene for an immune system response yielding cancer cell suicide (apoptosis), bypassing non-cancerous and healthy cells. Studied indications include prostate, brain and pancreatic cancers, and a primary protein molecule associated with Dr. Fisher’s research has been shown to be safe in a Phase I clinical trial.
Kalland, Karl-Henning. (2017,October). Small molecule promotes ᵝ-catenin citrullination and inhibits Wnt signaling in cancer. Nature Chemical Biology. University of Bergen, Norway.