Worm infection drug could be used to treat prostate cancer

A drug commonly used to treat parasitic worm infection could also be useful in the treatment of prostate cancer when associated with the chemotherapy drug docetaxel, according to research involving the University of Strathclyde.

This study tested nearly 1000 existing medicines and found that the drug, mebendazole, worked in combination with another drug, docetaxel, which is widely used in chemotherapy, to enhance its ability to kill prostate cancer cells and decrease tumour growth.

The drugs work together to achieve this by disrupting a molecular ‘scaffold’ used by cells to divide. This scaffold is vital for cancer cells to grow and divide and the combination treatment was found to increase cancer cell death dramatically.
Mebendazole is on the World Health Organization’s List of Essential Medicines and can be purchased from a pharmacist for less than £2 per pill.

The study has been published in the British Journal of Cancer. It was led by Professor Hing Leung at the Cancer Research UK Beatson Institute and at the University of Glasgow, and was done in collaboration with research groups at Strathclyde and the University of Warwick.

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer affecting men and the second most common cause of cancer death for men in the UK.

In this study, the research group of Dr Christine Dufès, a Reader at the Strathclyde Institute of Pharmacy and Biomedical Sciences, formulated the tumour-targeted liposomes entrapping the two drugs and evaluated their efficacy in vitro and in laboratory models in vivo.

Dr Dufès said: “Prostate cancer kills hundreds of thousands of patients worldwide each year and more than 100 cases are diagnosed each day in the UK alone. The need for treatments is urgent, as there is still no effective treatment for patients whose prostate cancer recurs or spreads.

“However, new combinations of existing drugs could be powerful treatments for prostate cancer. The intravenous injection of tumour-targeted liposomes entrapping the two drugs led to a decrease of the tumour growth, more potent than with the individual drugs injected separately in laboratory settings. These are highly promising results.”

Dr Helen Rippon, Chief Executive of Worldwide Cancer Research, which helped fund the study, said: “This research could be a real game-changer for prostate cancer patients. Docetaxel is the main chemotherapy used to treat prostate cancer, but many patients end up developing resistance to the drug and their cancer comes back.

“This bold new idea shows how we can use already existing medicines to bolster the effects of chemotherapy and hopefully improve outcomes for people with prostate cancer. We are excited to follow the progress of the research team as they take their work forward into clinical trials.

“Prostate cancer kills nearly 12,000 people every year in the UK. This research is an encouraging first-step towards kinder, more effective treatments that will ultimately save more lives.”

Dr Samuel Godfrey, Senior Research Information Manager at Cancer Research UK, said: “Combining existing medicines with different cancer drugs is an exciting area of research, and this study shows some promising results which could lead to improved treatments for prostate cancer. Out of the hundreds of medicines investigated, few would have suspected that an inexpensive worming treatment could so drastically increase cancer cell death in the lab. The next step will be to test this new drug combination in people with prostate cancer to see if it’s safe and performs better than current treatments.”

The research was supported by the Prostate Cancer Foundation Challenge Award, Cancer Research UK Beatson Institute, Lister Institute of Preventive Medicine and Wellcome Trust Investigator Award, Worldwide Cancer Research and The Dunhill Medical Trust.

Read the research paper.