Over 17,000 Australians are diagnosed with gastrointestinal cancers every year and 80 die from the disease each week.

With such hard hitting statistics, there is a very real urgency to develop new treatments for one of the nation’s most common cancers. Unfortunately, it often takes years for drugs to be made available after being discovered in the laboratory and the sad reality is that many patients can’t afford to wait this long.

Dr Ashwini Chand of the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute has published a paper this month through the European Molecular Biology Organisation (EMBO) that investigates a novel way of bypassing this lengthy development process. Her team in the Cancer Therapeutics Development Group is working to repurpose drugs already being used to treat other diseases for cancer therapy. Because these drugs have already passed clinical trial stage, they can hopefully be prescribed to cancer patients sooner.

“The concept of repurposing how an existing drug is used favours identifying drugs with greater tolerability in patients,” explains Dr Chand.

“An additional possible benefit for cancer patients and their families is that off-patent drugs are more easily accessible as treatments and are not as costly.”

Dr Chand’s paper evaluates the effectiveness of bazedoxifene, a drug clinically approved for the treatment of osteoporosis, in inhibiting the growth of gastrointestinal tumours.

Inflammatory cytokines are signaling molecules that promote the normal immune response of inflammation in the body, but which can also contribute to the progression and treatment resistance of tumours in the presence of cancer. Gastric tumours frequently arise and progress rapidly due to excessive signaling through gp130, the shared receptor for the interleukin (IL)6 family of inflammatory cytokines. Dr Chand’s findings show that bazedoxifene is able to mimic interactions between the gp130 receptors and IL6 cytokines, essentially tricking the receptors into binding with it and preventing them from interacting with the cytokines.

In this way, bazedoxifene prevents gastrointestinal tumours from growing and possibly progressing to an advanced cancer stage.

“These findings are significant as we have for the first time shown that a drug can block the IL6 signalling pathway,” says Dr Chand. “I am thankful for our collaborators, who assisted my team in utilising a multidisciplinary approach to understanding the IL6 signalling biology in cancer cells. We are hopeful that our future studies will allow us to decide which particular patients this drug will be most beneficial to as a cancer therapy.”

Dr Chand is excited about these findings as they offer immediate and tangible hope for people diagnosed with gastrointestinal cancer.

“It is great to have discovered a treatment that may very soon be implemented in the clinic for cancer patients, especially since therapeutic doses have already been decided and any side-effects extensively tested on bone density and other physiological parameters.  The next step will be to work out the drug’s efficacy in patients with gastrointestinal cancer.”

Dr Chand’s group is also looking into repurposing drugs used for treatment of rheumatoid arthritis.

Find out more about:
Dr Ashwini Chand
Cancer Therapeutics Development Group

Read the publication here