Repositioning of drugs for cancer treatment, a technique investigated by Argentine scientists

Cancer treatments have evolved in recent years and have contributed to improving the chances of survival for patients. Within this framework, scientists Center for Molecular and Translational Oncology at the National University of Quilmes (COMTra) and Conicet they investigate the drug repositioning, a technique that consists of using an existing drug for a new indication different from the original one. “It is a cheaper and faster strategy to investigate and then transfer patients”, he explains. Daniel Alonsoprincipal investigator at Conicet and first director of COMTra.

Since its creation, this Center has approached the study of drugs previously intended for other diseases, in order to prove their effectiveness in fighting cancer. According to Alonso, the case that made the most progress was that of desmopressin, a drug traditionally used in medicine to stop bleeding in general and that the research team applied it to contain them in people with breast and colorectal cancer. Thus, they can be operated on or submitted to chemotherapy in a safer way.

This research becomes even more important if we take into account that, according to data from the National Cancer Institute, Breast cancer and colorectal cancer are the two that most affect the Argentine population, representing 16.8 and 12.1 percent of the total, respectively.

John Garona, COMTra and Conicet researcher, details: “When desmopressin is administered, an antistatic effect is generated, that is, the spread of tumor cells in a second organ is stopped. Furthermore, it has also been found that if this drug is given when the tumor is growing in the first affected organ, its expansion is restricted and its growth is limited.

the magnifying glass in childhood

Garona says she is investigating the oncopediatrics, an area in which the number of patients is low and, therefore, research is scarce. Thus, he dedicates his line of work to three types of cancer, osteosarcoma (bones), neuroblastoma (originated from immature nerve cells) and hepatoblastoma (liver), and to two drugs in particular: desmopressin and propranolol. About the first, he says that it is provided as a complement to chemotherapy, which “It is given in very low doses, repeatedly and sustained over time. In turn, it is combined with desmopressin to make the surgery safer.”

On the other hand, Propranolol is a medication that has historically been used to treat various cardiovascular diseases. such as arrhythmia and hypertension. Thanks to the repositioning made by COMTra, the drug advances in tests to treat osteosarcoma, the most prevalent bone cancer that mainly affects children and adolescents.

Propranolol has multiple benefits, as it is a cheap drug to produce because it is no longer under patent, which means it is manufactured as a generic drug. “It is for outpatient use and patients can take it at home in pill form. In addition, it is easy and cheap to implement in the health system because it is a safe substance”, testifies Garona.

recognize foreign cells

In turn, the COMTra and Conicet researcher, Valeria Segatori, investigate the immunotherapy, which consists of stimulating the patient’s immune system so that it recognizes the tumor as something abnormal in the body and attacks it. “The tumor cells are derived from the organism itself, so they are very good at ‘masking’ and going unnoticed by the patient’s defenses”, he explains.

Segatori investigates the drug ivermectin, an antiparasitic that prevents the invasion of parasites by attacking the nervous system. “Among the extra effects that this drug has is the induction of a mechanism called ‘immunogenic cell death’ which it does is kill the tumor cell and, in parallel, make it visible to the immune system”.

What does it mean to make tumor cells visible? Being derived from the organism itself, but genetically altered, the immune system must recognize them as something foreign to attack them. “When the tumor cell dies, the signs that something strange is happening are shown and that’s when the patient’s defenses are activated. if that is combined with an immunotherapy that enhances this immune responsean effect can be found in a scenario where the drug alone or the immune system alone is not enough”, explains the researcher.

In short, drug repositioning tries to tackle different types of cancer with drugs that already existed for other indications in combination with the best-known traditional therapies. The investigations were supported by Conicet, the National University of Quilmes, the National Agency for the Promotion of Research, Technological Development and Innovation, the National Cancer Institute and private companies such as Chemo-Romikin and the Elea laboratory.

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