In a new study, researchers have tested close to 1000 existing medicines and discovered that a cheap drug commonly used to treat parasitic worm infection could be a game-changing treatment for prostate cancer.
The drug, called mebendazole, is on the World Health Organisation’s List of Essential Medicines and can be purchased from a pharmacist for less than £2 per pill.
The research was done by scientists at the University of Glasgow and Cancer Research UK Beatson Institute.
Prostate cancer is the most common cancer affecting men and the second most common cause of cancer death for men in the UK.
In the study, the team found that mebendazole worked in combination with the commonly used chemotherapy drug docetaxel to enhance its ability to kill prostate cancer cells and abolished tumor growth in mice prostate cancer.
They found that mebendazole and docetaxel work together to kill prostate cancer cells by disrupting the 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 drastically increase cancer cell death.
The study shows that by carrying out large screens on currently available medicines, it is possible to identify drugs that can be repurposed for cancer.
Mebendazole and docetaxel have been well tested in patients and, since the safety of both drugs has already been determined, the timescale from lab to the clinic is significantly reduced.
Drug repurposing finds new ways to use existing drugs and fast tracks the process of testing new treatments as the drugs tested have already been used in humans with satisfactory safety records.
This makes drug repurposing more time and cost-effective than developing new drugs.
The team is currently developing a clinical study design that will be able to determine the best dose and administration schedule to be used along with docetaxel.
The aim would be to allow the drugs to work together while producing the lowest side effects. Once this has been shown to be effective in treating prostate cancer, the combination treatment could be adopted widely in patients with prostate cancer.
One author of the study is Professor Hing Leung.
The study is published in the British Journal of Cancer.
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