Repurposed old drugs as new and effective cancer treatments

Repurposed old drugs as new and effective cancer treatments

Drugs created for specific medical conditions - like diabetes, blood pressure, acne or even pet worming - are now being repurposed for use in oncology to stop cancers feeding, disrupt their growth or division, restrict metastases, increase survival times, and even help cure cancer; here we summarise the top off-label repurposed drugs from research.

New Drugs for Old - off-patent, off-label drugs help fight cancer

A minor revolution is occurring in UK cancer treatment and it concerns about 60 or so old drugs, developed originally to treat parasite infections, allergies or acne, but which have each now been found to have a previously little-known side-effect - they are effective in some way against cancer.

Oncologists and Integrative cancer experts are now turning to these old drugs and using them as a part of their Complementary and Integrative mix when treating cancer. The official term is ‘Drug repurposing’. It’s new drugs for old!

Let’s be clear. These drugs already exist, they have been around for years and doctors know exactly what they do, their safety results in clinical trials, and exactly what their side-effects are (usually slight). They include NSAIDs, cold remedies, sleeping drugs, addiction medicines, anti-parasite remedies and antibiotics.

Oh, and by the way, these drugs are all now off-patent, so they are very cheap. Because they are now being put to a new use not mentioned in the original medical description, they are also termed 'Off-Label repurposed drugs'.

But in truth, it’s a good idea. A very good idea. And already there are people surviving longer by using these non-cancer approved drugs.

Using off-label repurposed drugs to beat cancer

For example, Dr. Charles (Snuffy) Myers, a top US research scientist formerly with both the National Cancer Institute and the National Institute of Health, created a drug called suramin (an AIDS drug that also happens to block cancer cell growth). When he, himself, developed prostate cancer he used suramin, which he knew could help fight prostate cancer, along with dutasteride (an anti-oestrogen that is normally used to reduce benign prostate enlargement). He also formed a group at the NCI looking at repurposed drugs with promise for prostate cancer - like phenylacetate, phenylbutyrate and geldanamycin. He has recently retired from running The Prostate Forum, a support organisation and newsletter he created in the USA, as part of The American Institute for Diseases of the Prostate in Charlottesville, Virginia.

In April 2015, Professor Ben Williams, a septuagenarian, paid a visit to London - he beat his brain cancer (the worst sort, a glioblastoma) back in 1995 by adding a sleeping drug (melatonin), an antacid (cimetidine), a blood pressure drug (verapramil) and an acne medicine (accutane) to his doctor’s recognised brain tumour medicines. 

Go to: How Professor Ben Williams beat his brain cancer using old repurposed drugs

It worked. 20 years after diagnosis, and over a decade since the last signs, Ben can genuinely say he beat terminal cancer. A film has been made of his story by Dominic Hall – it is called Surviving Terminal Cancer’ and the UK launch is supported by the Brain Tumour Charity.

Grade 4, stage 4 cervical cancer patient Jane McLelland turned to off-label drugs after her orthodox treatments in the late 1990s also gave her leukemia.  Jane completely beat her cancer, and wrote a book 'How to Starve Cancer' about her experiences in 2009. Jane used drugs like pyridamole and cimetidine along with the herb Berberine (an alternative to metformin).

The point, as in all cancer, is that these people tailored their treatment package to their personal situation and cancer type.

Top repurposed drugs shown to fight cancer:

There is a lot of research from top Professors, scientists and Medical Schools on many repurposed drugs and in each case we have a separate article elsewhere on the Website. Here Chris Woollams gives you a short summary.

   * NSAID indomethacin - We previously covered research that an old-anti-inflammatory drug Indomethacin increases survival in people with serous ovarian cancer.

   * Flufenamic acid - We also covered research that this common cold remedy has been shown by Japanese researchers to block a system cancer cells use to develop resistance to chemotherapy. Why would oncologists not want to use it?

   * Chloroquinone - An old anti-malaria drug can increase the lifespan of drugs used to treat BRAF mutations in brain tumors, melanoma and so on. Scientists at the University of Colorado showed chloroquinone could increase survival times in GBM.

   * Anthistamines like Cimetidine and Loratadine - Histamines help cancer spread, and metastases decrease survival times. There's a lot of research on how anti-histamines reduce spread and increase survival. 

In 2002 Clinical Trials, of people having Colorectal surgery, 47 per cent did not survive 3 years. But with those taking Cimetidine, this figure fell to just 5 per cent, according to cancer center Johns Hopkins.. 

Similarly, Swedish research showed that women with breast cancer who were coincidentally taking anti-histamines (such as Desloratidine or Loratidine) survived up to 50 per cent longer than those who weren’t. They probably only took these cheap drugs for 10 weeks a year! We have an overview:

Go to: Antihistamines increase survival times

   * Atorvastatin - Cancer patients who have higher levels of blood fats have more metastases and survive least, according to several studies. Thus a statin which reduces blood fats, reduces cancer spread. A non-drug alternative would be lycopene.  For example, both statins and lycopene have been linked with a lower risk of both aggressive and fatal prostate cancer.

   * Metformin, the successful diabetes drug, is used to lower blood sugar in type-2 diabetes and thus can reduce the ability of cancer cells to feed. Metformin also has other anticancer benefits. MD Anderson in their review on metformin talk of it affecting multiple cancer signalling pathways relating to cell growth, proliferation and cell survival. In prostate cancer it seems to help Androgen Deprivation Therapy and reduce cancer cell proliferation. The Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania have shown that breast cancer patients who start using metformin after diagnosis are 50% more likely to survive than non-users. The herb Berberine cuts blood sugar like metformin, and has cancer cell killing abilities via the AMPK pathway, plus being an anti-inflammatory compound.

Go To: Metformin aids cancer survival

   * Aspirin - A proven anti-inflammatory agent, inflammation is a precursor to cancer and a fundamental requirement, if a cancer is to spread. In 2012, Oxford University and the Radcliffe showed that people taking a daily 75 mg mini-aspirin developed less cancers; and if they had cancer, they survived longer and had less metastases. Research from the Francis Crick Institute in London shows that aspirin reduces levels of inflammation on cancer cells via the PEG2 prostaglandin, and helps the immune system better see the cancer. Another NSAID, indomethacin, showed potential with ovarian cancer.

   * Pyridamole - a safe drug used to prevent blood clotting and strokes, it reduces platelets, which are essential in helping cancer form blood supplies and in metastasis. Research with breast cancer (and TNBC), colorectal cancer, melanoma and others show it reduces the presence of secondary tumours, and even primary tumours greatly increasing survival.

   * Propranolol - a non-specific Beta-blocker has numerous studies with a variety of cancers such as breast, ovarian, colorectal and non-small cell lung cancer. Stress hormones are known to encourage metastases, and beta-blocker propranolol seems capable of reducing cancer aggression and metastases.

Go to: Beta-blockers can add years to cancer survival times

   * Phenergan and chlomipramine -  both can affect the energy production system of a cancer cell. We have a review by Prof. Geoff Pilkington on chlomipramine; in research with brain cancer drug Temozolomide the results were greatly improved. Chlomipramine is a tricyclic antidepressant; We also have an aricle by Dr. Robert Jones on Phenergan (promethazine).

   * Fenbendazole - in Johns Hopkins research, the researchers tried to give mice GBM brain cancer but with one group nothing happened. They had previously been de-wormed with Fenbendazole. Researchers then found it had significant anti-cancer benefits. There's a protocol by Joe Tippens who used Fenbendazole to beat his NSCLC in 3 months!

Go to: Fenbendazole anti-cancer protocol

   * Mebendazole, or MBZ, is a similar compound and many researchers think it better than Fenbendazole against cancer. Mebendazole is approved to treat worms and has been around since 1970. It stops the synthesis of their microtubules, in the same way as the cancer drug vinicristine. Its manufacture was suddenly discontinued in 2011 in the USA about the same time evidence started to appear that it could stop cancer cell growth and secondary tumours in a variety of cancers like GBM, lung cancer and melanoma. The generic version is still available. It can, however, cause diarrhoea and liver problems.

Go To: Pinworm drug, Mebendazole, fights cancer

   * Doxycycline is a powerful antibiotic. However it has been shown to correct cancer stem cells and help 'normalise' them. The researchers from Salford in Manchester, UK, suggested that IVC and Berberine could then kill the cancer cells.

Go to: Vitamin C and Doxycycline shown to kill cancer stem cells.

   * Niclosamide - Another drug shown to kill cancer stem cells. Less damaging to the human microbiome than antibiotic Doxycycline, Niclosamide also attacks p53-deficient mitochondria, which occur in the majority of cancer cells. This repurposed drug has been shown to reduce tumours by 50%.

Go to: Niclosamide as a cancer treatment

   * Isotretinoin, or Accutane, is a form of retinoic acid (vitamin A) and is normally used in cases of severe acne and genital warts. It was also used for skin cancer and has been used as an anti-cancer chemotherapy in the USA. It is used with neuroblastoma recurrence. There is a little evidence that it can 'normalise' cancer stem cells. It was removed from the US market by manufacturer, Roche, after a number of claims that it caused IBS, Crohn's and colitis. It does seem to have more than its fair share of side-effects, some quite serious.

   * Methadone is an opioid stimulator. It appears from research to help overcome drug resistance in cancer cells and thus promote a longer use of drugs and a greater survival time. There is some evidence that it can kill cancer cells in its own right.

   * Low Dose Naltrexone (LDN) is another opioid stimulator, repurposed drug full of potential. At CANCERactive we know of several people who have held their cancers, like colorectal and prostate, stable for a number of years. LDN stimulates opioid and endorphin release from the brain, and these have significant pain relieving, immune-boosting, and anti-cancer effects. LDN seems to work best when 'pulsed 3 days on and 3 days off; and in the presence of alpha lipoid acid (ALA) and vitamin D.

Go to: The anti-cancer benefits of LDN

   * Itraconazole is a triazole antifungal drug first launched in 1984. It has recently been explored as an anti-cancer agent with basal cell carcinoma, non-small cell lung cancer, breast cancer, NHL, and prostate cancer – the last, in phase II clinical trials showing significant falls in PSA levels.

So, that is just a few of the drugs re-inventing themselves. (Sorry, 'repurposing' themselves.)

Will oncologists use these repurposed drugs?

Oncologists are polarising. In the UK, the Saatchi bill, which was vetoed by the Liberal Democrats in the UK parliament at the 11th hour, would have given doctors the freedom to try anything to fight cancer, especially in terminal cases.

Some oncologists are sceptical. Dosage is an important issue. Doctors don’t want to get that wrong. They know how much to use for acne – but how much for cancer? Then there’s the cocktail effect. Who knows what could happen if you chuck another two drugs into the mix? And the usually suportative drugs companies aren't interested. There's no money in drugs that are off patent.

However, many oncologists think this is just alarmist and that combinations of these old drugs are almost side-effect-free and have the potential to hold a cancer in a stable state for several years or more. And this is a wonderful concept for someone told their cancer is terminal. Already, we are seeing metformin creeping in to the cancer drug mix in the UK.

A privately funded group, The Anticancer Fund, are working with a group in America to fund cliinical trials on old drugs. The project is called ReDO (Repurposing Drugs in Oncology). Here’s hoping. They have identified six drugs as a start; unfortunately, the web page seems to have been hacked on several occasions in just the past months

Ignoring repurposed drugs is foolish

The issue to my mind is incredibly simple. In a terminal situation such as my daughter Catherine had with her glioblastoma, you obviously research your options. And if there are simple ways of reducing blood sugar, inflammation, stopping spread, making the orthodox treatments work better, and more, you would be foolish not to consider them. Moreover, I simply cannot understand why anyone would come between a 22 year old girl with terminal cancer and perhaps another 3 months or 3 years of life or even a potential cure. While I fully understand Big Pharma’s position, it is one thing to ignore it all and hope it goes away; quite another thing if they were found to be involved in the negative attacks via sceptics and other channels.

Repurposed drugs for cancer in the UK

Oncologists such as Professor Angus Dalgleish and Professor Justin Stebbing have been using off-label drugs for a good few years, and have ’inspired’ the use of the same at the Care Oncology Clinic in Harley Street. Care Oncology is using the same four drugs (metformin, atorvastatin, mebendazole and doxycycline) whatever the cancer in the hope of completing a clinical trial. (They have recently added the anti-inflammatory Flarin). They have also been known to take patients off supplements like Artemisinin and Berberine, despite research showing clear benefits.  Dr. Julian Kenyon of The Dove Clinic has used old repurposed drugs successfully for a number of years.

All in all, everyone with cancer should keep an open mind to the potential inclusion of repurposed old drugs in their Integrative Treatment package. And, at CANCERactive, we've not deviated from this view in more than 15 years!


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