Cancer drugs may help treat lung inflammation, COPD

In a new study, researchers found the potential for clinically available cancer treatments to treat chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

They examined the effect of drugs used to treat a variety of cancers on this inflammatory response; the main driver of lung damage in people living with COPD.

The research was conducted by scientists from the University of Sheffield.

COPD slowly develops over many years—often patients are not aware they have it until their 40s or 50s—and for the 1.2 million people in the UK who have been diagnosed, it makes breathing progressively more difficult.

People living with COPD experience a wide range of symptoms that have an increasing impact on their quality of life, including breathlessness, coughing, and frequent chest infections.

The damage to the lungs is driven by inflammation caused by immune cells called neutrophils.

COPD is usually treated with steroids and airway muscle relaxants which ease symptoms, but there is currently no effective treatment clinically available to counteract the damage it does to the lungs.

In the study, the research team screened a library of cancer drugs and identified a number of compounds which accelerate the death of the neutrophil cells and promote healing in the lungs.

They discovered that specific cancer drugs inhibit a cell signaling process controlling the death-rate of the harmful neutrophils.

The team also found that editing the genes that encode the cell signaling in the first place, further decreased inflammation.

They say these cancer drugs can clear the damaging cells from the lungs of people living with COPD, preventing any further damage and therefore the progression of the disease for the first time.

The next step is to find a way to test these drugs in people with COPD to understand how the signaling process has an effect on lung inflammation and to address any potential side effects.

The lead author of the study is Dr. Lynne Prince, Russell Fellow at the University of Sheffield.

The study is published in eLife.

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