Previously Developed Non-Cancer Therapies May Have Cancer-Fighting Potential

A study published in Nature Cancer identified nearly 50 already-developed drug compounds that have anti-cancer potential, including therapies for diabetes, inflammation, and alcoholism.

Researchers from the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute used the Broad’s Drug Repurposing Hub, a collection that currently comprises more than 6,000 existing drugs and compounds that are either approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration or have demonstrated safety outcomes in clinical trials. At the time of the study, the Hub contained 4,518 drugs.

Cancer-fighting potential in certain compounds

They tested all compounds in the Hub on 578 human cancer cell lines from the Broad’s Cancer Cell Line Encyclopedia and tagged each cell line with a DNA barcode, allowing them to pool several cell lines together in each dish. The team then exposed each pool of barcoded cells to a single compound from the repurposing library and measured the survival rate of the cancer cells.

Nearly 50 compounds killed some cancer cells.

“We thought we’d be lucky if we found even a single compound with anti-cancer properties, but we were surprised to find so many,” Todd Golub, chief scientific officer and director of the Cancer Program at the Broad, Charles A. Dana Investigator in Human Cancer Genetics at Dana-Farber, and professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, said in a press release.

Some specific anti-cancer potential compounds included those that killed by inducing phosphodiesterase 3A-Schlafen 12 complex formation; vanadium-containing compounds whose killing depended on the sulfate transporter SLC26A2; the alcohol dependence drug disulfiram, which killed cells with low expression of metallothioneins; and the anti-inflammatory drug tepoxalin, which killed via the multidrug resistance protein ATP-binding cassette subfamily B member 1.