In a new study, researchers found that a drug used for almost 40 years to treat worm infections in humans and animals may help inhibit melanoma growth and spread.
Melanoma is a type of cancer that develops in the skin’s pigment cells.
The research was conducted by a team from UNSW Sydney and the United States. The finding is the result of a 3-year collaboration.
The drug is called flubendazole. It is available over-the-counter in Europe and is a so-called anthelmintic used to control parasitic infections.
In the new study, the team found that the drug can help inhibit growth and metastasis of human skin tumors.
They found flubendazole’s anti-tumor effects were from its inhibition of a cell surface protein called PD-1.
When PD-1 is bound to another protein called PD-L1, it helps stop the immune system from killing cancer cells.
PD-1 suppression releases the brakes on the immune system and allows immune cells to find and destroy tumors.
The team ran experiments on mice and found that flubendazole was linked with PD-1 suppression.
The finding is very important because currently, all clinically available PD-1 inhibitors for melanoma treatment are antibodies.
Patients need to undergo intravenous infusion, typically once every 3 weeks.
Many patients do not respond to existing PD-1 inhibitors or the response is not sustained.
The new finding provides a new possible option for melanoma treatment. It may help improve immunotherapy.
Patients may avoid intravenous administration and cost savings for chemotherapy.
The team says that whilst flubendazole is an old drug, its use as a treatment for melanoma has not yet been tested in human trials. Future work will test the drug on human patients.
The lead author of the study is Professor Levon Khachigian.
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