Hope Rekindled: Common Deworming Drug Shows Promise Against Aggressive Oral Cancer

Hope Rekindled: Common Deworming Drug Shows Promise Against Aggressive Oral Cancer

Written by Watchdoq Newsportal. July 03, 2024

For many suffering from a specific subtype of oral cancer, traditional treatment options can feel like a brutal fight against a relentless foe. Now, a beacon of hope emerges from a most unexpected source – a common deworming medication. Researchers in Mumbai have discovered that pyrvinium pamoate, a readily available drug used to treat intestinal worms, might hold the key to combating a particularly aggressive form of head and neck cancer.

This breakthrough stems from a crucial discovery: a novel genetic alteration dubbed the UBE3C-LRP5 fusion transcript. This unexpected mutation, found in a significant portion of Indian oral cancer patients (around 5.3%), acts like a sinister switch, flipping on a cancer-promoting pathway within cells. This pathway, known as Wnt/beta-catenin, fuels the uncontrolled growth and spread of cancerous cells.

But the Mumbai researchers didn't stop there. They went a step further, testing a bold hypothesis – could an existing drug target this newly identified culprit? The answer, remarkably, was a resounding yes. Pyrvinium pamoate, the humble deworming medication, emerged as a potential champion in this fight.

Laboratory studies painted a promising picture. Pyrvinium pamoate effectively shut down the Wnt/beta-catenin pathway in cancer cells harboring the UBE3C-LRP5 fusion. This translated into a significant decrease in their aggressive behavior, offering a glimmer of hope for controlling their spread. In animal models, the results were even more encouraging. Mice with tumors formed from cells overexpressing the fusion protein saw a dramatic improvement in survival rates after treatment with pyrvinium pamoate.

Dr. Sudhir Nair, an oral cancer surgeon at the forefront of this research, estimates that this discovery has the potential to benefit a substantial number of patients in India alone – an estimated 10,000 to 11,000 annually.  The excitement is palpable, not just for the potential impact on patient lives, but also for the approach itself.

This study highlights the immense potential of repurposing existing drugs. By leveraging established medications with known safety profiles, researchers can potentially fast-track the development of new cancer treatments. Additionally, it underscores the importance of meticulously studying the underlying genetics of cancer. Unraveling these intricate mutations paves the way for the development of targeted therapies that strike with precision at the very core of the disease.

The journey, however, is far from over. The next crucial step involves clinical trials in human patients.  The optimism surrounding pyrvinium pamoate is high, given its existing FDA approval and established safety record. This readily available drug, once used to combat intestinal worms, might soon become a powerful weapon in the fight against a particularly aggressive form of oral cancer. The future, thanks to the ingenuity of researchers and the power of repurposing existing medications, seems a little brighter for patients facing this challenging disease.