In a recent study from the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, researchers found dozens of non-oncology drugs, including drugs for diabetes, inflammation, alcoholism—and even for treating arthritis in dogs—can also kill cancer cells in the lab.
They analyzed thousands of already developed drug compounds and found nearly 50 that have previously unrecognized anticancer activity.
The surprising findings also revealed novel drug mechanisms and targets.
They suggest a possible way to accelerate the development of new cancer drugs or repurpose existing drugs to treat cancer.
The study is published in Nature Cancer. One author is Todd Golub.
In the study, the team used Broad’s Drug Repurposing Hub, a collection that currently comprises more than 6,000 existing drugs and compounds that are either FDA-approved or have been proven safe in clinical trials.
This is the first time researchers screened the entire collection of mostly non-cancer drugs for their anti-cancer capabilities.
Previously, scientists have stumbled upon new uses for a few existing medicines, such as the discovery of aspirin’s heart benefits.
In the study, the team tested all the compounds in the Drug Repurposing Hub on 578 human cancer cell lines from the Broad’s Cancer Cell Line Encyclopedia (CCLE).
They found nearly 50 non-cancer drugs—including those initially developed to lower cholesterol or reduce inflammation—that killed some cancer cells while leaving others alone.
Most of the drugs that killed cancer cells in the study did so by interacting with a previously unrecognized molecular target.
The team was also able to predict whether certain drugs could kill each cell line by looking at the cell line’s genomic features, such as mutations and methylation levels.
This suggests that these features could one day be used as biomarkers to identify patients who will most likely benefit from certain drugs.
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