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Old drugs offer new ways of treating bowel cancer: NZ study

11 October 2022 | News

New combinations and formulations of older therapies are showing promise for the treatment of bowel cancer

Image credit: shutterstock

Image credit: shutterstock

Old medicines, combined in new ways, are showing promise for treating bowel cancer, a group of University of Auckland researchers has found in New Zealand (NZ).

“While there have been advances in treatments for this disease in recent years, the development of new medicines is expensive and time-consuming,” lead researcher Professor Peter Shepherd says. “As a possible solution to this problem, our group has been investigating whether using old drugs in new ways could provide a faster and cheaper way of treating this disease.”

The scientists investigated several cancer drugs that are coming off patent soon. When they combined two such drugs, they found greatly enhanced overall effectiveness in treating bowel, or colorectal, cancer in their lab-based studies. 

Studies in the labs at the University of Auckland have shown strong promise for two older drugs. One is an anticancer drug called axitinib. The other is pyrvinium, a low-cost drug that was developed in the 1960s to treat threadworm, which the researchers believe could be reformulated for use in cancer treatment. 

In one set of studies, the researchers found that the efficacy of another older drug targeting BRAF, called vemurafenib, could be greatly enhanced by adding axitinib. Axitinib works by reducing the growth of small blood vessels.

Both these drugs are used in other contexts to treat other types of cancer and will soon be off patent and so the cost of using them in treatment will drop greatly, Shepherd says.

In a second set of studies, the group found evidence that pyrvinium, which targets beta-catenin, could also increase the efficacy of vemurafenib. Next, the researchers are planning a randomised, controlled clinical trial.

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