Research & Clinical Trials

Multiple Sclerosis Drug Effectively Stops Mesothelioma Cells

Written By:
May 11, 2017
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Written By: Tim Povtak,
May 11, 2017

Research from the University of Hawaii Cancer Center shows an immune suppression drug already used to treat multiple sclerosis could become an effective tool against malignant mesothelioma.

The drug, fingolimod (FTY720), showed an ability to shrink mesothelioma tumors cells in the laboratory and in animal models without causing substantial side effects.

Fingolimod, which is derived from the fungus isaria sinclairii, also is being studied for potential use with cervical, breast, lung and prostate cancers. This was the first study of its effectiveness with mesothelioma.

The Journal of Translational Medicine published the results earlier this year.

“The result is very significant,” Dr. Haining Yang, senior researcher at the University of Hawaii Cancer Center, told “We found this drug to have a real anti-cancer effect on mesothelioma cells, without serious side effects. There could be tremendous potential here.”

Fingolimod is already approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for a relapsing form of multiple sclerosis, a disabling disease of the central nervous system that attacks the nerve fibers.

Repurposing Drugs for Different Cancers Is Critical

The study with mesothelioma cells at the University of Hawaii Cancer Center is the latest example of pharmaceutical repurposing, a growing trend in cancer research that involves finding new uses for already-established drugs.

Anti-cancer activity in a drug is sometimes transferable.

“It’s a hot topic now, researchers trying to screen old drugs,” Yang said. “You want to see what might be effective, not just for mesothelioma, but for other cancers, too.”

Repurposing is especially important for rare cancers such as mesothelioma, which typically do not receive the research funding or support for drug development that more common cancers receive.

It costs millions of dollars and often takes a decade or more to develop a new drug before it is submitted for FDA approval. Spending millions on a rare cancer drug is not good business for a pharmaceutical company.

Repurposing drugs, often through derivatives such as this one, can cut costs significantly and cut time in finding new therapies for hard-to-treat diseases.

Although progress has been made recently in the treatment of mesothelioma, it has been slow to arrive. There is no definitive cure for the asbestos-related cancer, and the majority of patients still live less than two years after diagnosis.

Fingolimod Slows Mesothelioma Growth

Investigators in the comparison study found that fingolimod suppressed the viability of the mesothelioma tumor cells without impacting normal mesothelial membrane cells.

It worked by inhibiting a specific protein that is over-expressed in mesothelioma cells.

The drug proved equally effective in mice models purposely infected with human mesothelioma tumors cells. The mice receiving the fingolimod showed a 60 percent reduction in tumor weight, compared to those in the control group.

The mice were injected on a five-days-on, two-days-off schedule. No side effects — weight loss, social behaviors, posture, hydration, spleen size — were observed in the study.

“Mesothelioma is a small field, but there is a bigger need with this nasty, aggressive cancer,” Yang said. “Any potential strategy that would help patients with this disease should be explored. We hope these new discoveries will lead to consideration from the pharmaceutical companies and clinicians.”

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