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How using old medicines could offer new ways of treating colorectal cancer

Colorectal cancer is the second most common form of cancer in New Zealand and  while research in recent years has lead to a rapid increase in our understanding of how this form of cancer develops, there is still a need for much better treatments for this disease.

The development of new medicines is expensive and time consuming but researchers at the University of Auckland have used this new knowledge of how this type of cancer develops to study how some existing medicines could potentially be repurposed for use to treat colorectal cancer.

With support from the Gut Cancer Foundation and the Health Research Council the researchers designed a number of studies to test old drugs in new combinations and the results of these studies have been published this week in the prestigious Journal Molecular Cancer Therapeutics.  

In one set of studies the researchers found that the efficacy of a drug designed to treat a specific genetic form of colorectal cancer could be greatly enhanced by adding a second drug that is currently used to reduce blood supply to cancers. 

In a second set of studies they showed  that a drug developed in the 1950s to treat threadworm has significant potential to treat colorectal cancer if it could be administered in the right way.

Professor Peter Shepherd who lead the research groups says “ This work suggests that using existing drugs in new ways might be able to be repurposed to treat this type of cancer which could significantly reduce the cost of such therapy.”

Dr Khanh Tran who performed most of the experiments says “Since the drugs we used are already in use for other purposes, it makes it much easier to develop clinical trials to see how the findings of our studies will actually translate to improved outcomes for patients with this disease.”

Liam Willis of the Gut Cancer Foundation “This is a great example of how the money invested in research to understand how cancer works can lead to rationally designed studies to improve treatment outcomes. We look forward to seeing how clinical trials progress and we are grateful to the Ted and Mollie Carr Fund and Estate of Ernest Davis through Perpetual Guardian, for their support of this research."

Read more here about the research and its findings.

Listen to Professor Shepherd talk to RNZ's Jesse Mulligan on the research