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Cancer treatment improved by beta-blockers and chemotherapy

March 29, 2016

Researchers at the Children’s Cancer Institute (CCI) in Sydney established that a drug developed to treat high blood pressure, propranolol, has a powerful ‘chemo-boosting’ effect when used in combination with certain chemotherapeutic drugs for the treatment of angiosarcoma.

Angiosarcoma, which affects the lining of blood vessels and can occur in any part of the body, is a rare but deadly form of cancer.

Called drug re-positioning, the practice of using already approved drugs for new medical applications has already proven successful in the treatment of a number of diseases. In this case it all began in the CCI laboratories, where Professor Maria Kavallaris and Dr Eddy Pasquier tested a number of drugs in a laboratory model of angiosarcoma. They were excited to discover that the beta-blocker propranolol made a huge difference to the anti-cancer effects of a chemotherapy drug called vinblastine.

“Our earlier studies had shown that beta-blockers can work well with chemotherapy against some childhood cancers, as well as certain breast cancers. So we thought we’d see if something similar could be done with angiosarcoma,” said Professor Kavallaris.

International collaboration brings results

Once the team had shown that propranolol boosted the effects of vinblastine against angiosarcoma, Dr Pasquier worked with clinicians at the Tata Memorial Hospital of Mumbai, India and Aix-Marseille University in Marseilles, France to design a new treatment protocol. The new protocol was then used in a small pilot study in Mumbai to treat seven patients with advanced and inoperable angiosarcoma.

“The results of this pilot study were quite incredible,” said Dr Pasquier.

“All seven patients responded. One ended up with no clinical signs of disease at all, and another two had their tumours regress to the point of almost disappearing. These are patients who had no prospects at all for survival beyond 12 months, and in whom the treatment was really just given as palliative care, so the fact that two of them are still alive today, up to 20 months later, shows just how effective this treatment is.”

Cancer researcher Dr Eddy Pasquier at CCI

Cancer researcher Dr Eddy Pasquier at CCI

Dr Pasquier and colleagues have recently secured funding for a larger trial, and anticipate that if the results prove positive, the treatment could go on to become available to angiosarcoma patients worldwide.

The team is also hopeful that, over time, the treatment will contribute to what is called ‘a fair global oncology’ and that it will prove useful for a number of other cancers, including difficult-to-treat cancers in children.

The study was recently published in the new online journal EBioMedicine.

The original news article was published on the CCI website. Images of Professor Maria Kavallaris and Dr Eddy Pasquier courtesy of CCI.

The Australian Cancer Research Foundation has supported cancer research at CCI by providing three grants, totalling AUD 5.1 million towards cutting edge cancer research equipment and technology.

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