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Malaria drug Re-purposed for Cancer Radiotherapy


Cancer Research UK says an old anti-malaria drug could be repurposed as a cancer therapy. In pre-clinical studies, this drug increases oxygen levels in tumors, making them easier to treat with radiotherapy.


cancer research uk atovaquone hypoxiaAtovaquone has been on the market since 2000 as part of an anti-malarial drug. It is also commercialized by GSK under the name Mepron for certain types of pneumonia. However, as its patent has already expired it’s also cheaply available from generic manufacturers.


This small molecule drug may now have a new role in Medicine – as a booster of radiotherapy to treat a broad range of cancers. Well, according to promising pre-clinical results obtained by Cancer Research UK.



When a tumor has low levels of oxygen, it can more easily repair the DNA damage caused by radiotherapy – reversing the treatment’s intended effect. Ensuring a supply of oxygen reduces the ability of cancer cells to repair themselves. Besides this, hypoxic conditions also trigger the tumor to be more likely to spread (metastasis).


This is why the team of researchers went to look for FDA-approved compounds that could boost oxygen levels in cells. More specifically, they were looking for candidates which decreased the oxygen consumption rate (OCR) of cells. By inhibiting the high OCR that is typical of cancer cells, the levels of oxygen would increase.

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