Nav: Home

Common heart drug repurposed to treat rare cancer in Europe

January 17, 2017

A drug that's commonly used to treat high blood pressure is being repurposed for a rare tissue cancer in Europe. The medication, named propranolol, was recently granted Orphan Drug Designation by the European Commission (EC).

The designation signifies that the EC supports the use of a drug to treat patients because of its significant benefit to those living with a rare disease -- in this case, soft tissue sarcoma. The cancer affects approximately one quarter of a million people living in Europe, and is generally considered difficult to treat.

"People with soft tissue sarcomas have a very poor survival rate," says Brad Bryan, Ph.D., a biomedical scientist at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso (TTUHSC El Paso). "Four out of 10 patients with the cancer will die and are in urgent need of new treatment options."

Propranolol's ability to treat angiosarcoma, a very lethal form of soft tissue sarcoma, was originally discovered by Bryan's TTUHSC El Paso lab. In his study, Bryan used cell lines and animal models to show that propranolol could fight angiosarcoma and remarkably reduce the growth of tumors; the results were published in a 2013 PLOS One paper. Later, in a 2015 JAMA Dermatology article, Bryan described treating a patient with angiosarcoma -- who only had months left to live -- and bringing the tumor down to undetectable levels. What's more, the treatment had little to no side effects.

Several scientists across the world have reported similar results since then, testing propranolol on their own patients with the rare cancer.

A 69-year-old woman with metastatic angiosarcoma made a full recovery after being treated with propranolol by Shripad Banavali, M.D., an oncologist at Tata Memorial Center in Mumbai, India and Eddy Pasquier, Ph.D., a researcher at the University of Aix-Marseille. The results were published in ecancermedicalscience. After witnessing the patient's improvement, Drs. Banavali and Pasquier were prompted to go even further; just a year later, the two successfully treated seven patients with inoperable angiosarcoma, as described in EBioMedicine.

"What surprised us the most about this new treatment is the fact that we got 100 percent clinical response, which is defined as either tumor regression or stabilization of the disease," says Pasquier. "This is not a cure in the sense that most patients will eventually see their disease progress, but this level of response is still very impressive, especially in this patient population with a very bleak prognosis; we're talking patients whose prognosis was roughly one year, give or take a few months."

The results soon caught the attention of the Anticancer Fund. After gathering research on the drug's effects, the nonprofit foundation -- which is dedicated to expanding the range of treatment options available to cancer patients -- applied to have propranolol approved as an orphan drug in Europe.

"Our ultimate objective is to have propranolol, if proven effective, fully licensed as a new standard of care treatment for angiosarcoma," says Pan Pantziarka, Ph.D., an oncology researcher at the Anticancer Fund. "Bryan's research was important because not only did it demonstrate the validity of this approach in animal models, but it also illustrated the effect of treatment in a patient for whom existing treatments are unlikely to be effective. These two elements were important in making the case for the clinical potential of propranolol in this rare and hard-to-treat cancer."

In an age of soaring cancer drug prices, propranolol offers a glimmer of hope for the checkbooks of some cancer patients.

First developed in the 1960s, today, propranolol is a generic drug, meaning it's available for a relatively affordable price. Current prescription drug therapies for sarcomas can cost patients upwards of $10,000 a month. Propranolol, however, costs about $4 a month.

"Treating soft tissue sarcoma can easily top $100,000 to $200,000," Bryan explains. "While propranolol will certainly not replace these treatments, our data show it improves the ability of the treatments to work -- all at the cost of a generic co-pay."
-end-
The Anticancer Fund recently formed the Propranolol for Angiosarcoma Task Force to bring together researchers and clinicians who are interested in further developing propranolol treatment options. Bryan, Pasquier and Dr. Banavali have teamed up with collaborators around the world to share research information, helping to reduce the risk of duplicating efforts, and work cooperatively to prove the efficacy of propranolol in treating soft tissue sarcoma.

The Anticancer Fund has plans to meet with the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) in the United Kingdom to discuss the level of evidence required to take propranolol through to relicensing.

If relicensed, propranolol's drug label could be changed to officially indicate its use in treating soft tissue sarcomas. International health guidelines could also be updated to designate propranolol as an official cancer drug, thereby encouraging physicians to use the new form of treatment.

Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso

Related Cancer Articles:

Radiotherapy for invasive breast cancer increases the risk of second primary lung cancer
East Asian female breast cancer patients receiving radiotherapy have a higher risk of developing second primary lung cancer.
Cancer genomics continued: Triple negative breast cancer and cancer immunotherapy
Continuing PLOS Medicine's special issue on cancer genomics, Christos Hatzis of Yale University, New Haven, Conn., USA and colleagues describe a new subtype of triple negative breast cancer that may be more amenable to treatment than other cases of this difficult-to-treat disease.
Metabolite that promotes cancer cell transformation and colorectal cancer spread identified
Osaka University researchers revealed that the metabolite D-2-hydroxyglurate (D-2HG) promotes epithelial-mesenchymal transition of colorectal cancer cells, leading them to develop features of lower adherence to neighboring cells, increased invasiveness, and greater likelihood of metastatic spread.
UH Cancer Center researcher finds new driver of an aggressive form of brain cancer
University of Hawai'i Cancer Center researchers have identified an essential driver of tumor cell invasion in glioblastoma, the most aggressive form of brain cancer that can occur at any age.
UH Cancer Center researchers develop algorithm to find precise cancer treatments
University of Hawai'i Cancer Center researchers developed a computational algorithm to analyze 'Big Data' obtained from tumor samples to better understand and treat cancer.
New analytical technology to quantify anti-cancer drugs inside cancer cells
University of Oklahoma researchers will apply a new analytical technology that could ultimately provide a powerful tool for improved treatment of cancer patients in Oklahoma and beyond.
Radiotherapy for lung cancer patients is linked to increased risk of non-cancer deaths
Researchers have found that treating patients who have early stage non-small cell lung cancer with a type of radiotherapy called stereotactic body radiation therapy is associated with a small but increased risk of death from causes other than cancer.
Cancer expert says public health and prevention measures are key to defeating cancer
Is investment in research to develop new treatments the best approach to controlling cancer?
UI Cancer Center, Governors State to address cancer disparities in south suburbs
The University of Illinois Cancer Center and Governors State University have received a joint four-year, $1.5 million grant from the National Cancer Institute to help both institutions conduct community-based research to reduce cancer-related health disparities in Chicago's south suburbs.
Leading cancer research organizations to host international cancer immunotherapy conference
The Cancer Research Institute, the Association for Cancer Immunotherapy, the European Academy of Tumor Immunology, and the American Association for Cancer Research will join forces to sponsor the first International Cancer Immunotherapy Conference at the Sheraton New York Times Square Hotel in New York, Sept.

Related Cancer Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Climate Crisis
There's no greater threat to humanity than climate change. What can we do to stop the worst consequences? This hour, TED speakers explore how we can save our planet and whether we can do it in time. Guests include climate activist Greta Thunberg, chemical engineer Jennifer Wilcox, research scientist Sean Davis, food innovator Bruce Friedrich, and psychologist Per Espen Stoknes.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#527 Honey I CRISPR'd the Kids
This week we're coming to you from Awesome Con in Washington, D.C. There, host Bethany Brookshire led a panel of three amazing guests to talk about the promise and perils of CRISPR, and what happens now that CRISPR babies have (maybe?) been born. Featuring science writer Tina Saey, molecular biologist Anne Simon, and bioethicist Alan Regenberg. A Nobel Prize winner argues banning CRISPR babies won’t work Geneticists push for a 5-year global ban on gene-edited babies A CRISPR spin-off causes unintended typos in DNA News of the first gene-edited babies ignited a firestorm The researcher who created CRISPR twins defends...