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River blindness drugs could treat breast cancer

Scientists have discovered that cheap drugs used to treat parasitic worms and conditions such as river blindness could be used for women with triple-negative breast cancer.

Triple-negative breast cancer accounts for 10–20% of all breast cancer cases.  It is thought to be caused in part by epigenetic changes – where genes are not mutated but are switched on and off in cells – and a key driver of these is SIN3.

With help from Worldwide Cancer Research, scientists at the Institute for Cancer Research London analysed the molecular structures of 2,000 clinically approved drugs to identify chemical targets that could interact with SIN3 and stop it binding with partner proteins.

Dr Chris Lord, Leader of the Gene Function Team at the ICR London, said: “Triple-negative breast cancers are often difficult to treat as some of the existing breast cancer treatments like Herceptin fail to work. Our results suggest that these cheap, readily available drugs could offer an exciting, cost-effective way to treat this disease, either on their own or in combination with other treatments already in use.

We found that drugs called avermectins, which are used to treat parasitic diseases like river blindness, were able to bind to a protein implicated in the progression of triple-negative breast cancer. They silenced (turned off) genes important for breast tumours to grow and spread, while activating (turned on) genes that sensitise cancer cells to the common hormone therapy tamoxifen.

It would be very interesting to see whether these drugs work as well in patients as they do in mice.”

The study, published in the journal Molecular Cancer Therapeutics, was funded by Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research, with additional funding from Worldwide Cancer Research.

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