Washington: Researchers at University of East Anglia (UEA) and Children`s Hospital Boston have made a breakthrough discovery that promises an effective new treatment for one of the deadliest forms of cancer.
The researchers found that leflunomide - a drug commonly used to treat rheumatoid arthritis – also inhibits the growth of malignant melanoma.
Melanoma is a cancer of the pigment cells in our skin. It is the most aggressive form of skin cancer and, unlike most other cancers, incidence of the disease is increasing.
If caught early, surgery can be used to safely remove the tumour but the chances of survival for patients whose tumour is already spreading are very low.
UEA scientists Dr Grant Wheeler and Dr Matt Tomlinson conducted a rigorous screen of thousands of compounds, looking for those that affect the development of pigment cells in tadpoles.
They identified a number of compounds that affected pigment cell development and have now shown with their US collaborators at Children`s Hospital Boston that leflunomide significantly restricts tumour growth in mouse models.
And when leflunomide is used in combination with PLX4720, a promising new melanoma therapy currently undergoing clinical trials, the effect was even more powerful – leading to almost complete block of tumour growth.
The next stage is for clinical trials to be conducted into the use of leflunomide to fight melanoma. Because leflunomide is already licensed to treat arthritis, this process should be faster than usual and a new treatment for melanoma could be available within around five years.
"This is a really exciting discovery – making use of an existing drug specifically to target melanoma," said Dr Grant Wheeler, of UEA`s School of Biological Sciences.
"Deaths from melanoma skin cancer are increasing and there is a desparate need for new, more effective treatments. We are very optimistic that this research will lead to novel treatments for melanoma tumours which, working alongside other therapies, will help to stop them progressing."
The study has been reported in the March 24 edition of the journal Nature.