Common Arthritis Drug May Also Help Treat Blood Cancers

Discovery may lead to cost effective treatment options.

Discovery may lead to cost effective treatment options.

A drug commonly given to patients with inflammatory conditions may also help relieve symptoms associated with blood cancer.

Myeloproliferative neoplasms cause an overproduction of blood cells, which leads to symptoms that include night sweats, itching, and fatigue. The drug Ruxolitinib offers some relief to these symptoms, but carries a high price tag.

Researchers in the UK found that Methotrexate (MTX) can work similarly to the more expensive therapy.

"Given that a year's course of low-dose MTX costs around £30, the potential to repurpose MTX could provide thousands of patients with a much needed treatment option and also generate substantial savings for health care systems,” said Dr. Martin Zeidler, from the University of Sheffield Department of Biomedical Science. "Because MTX is a World Health Organization 'Essential Medicine,' this also means that this well understood drug could be used throughout the developing world."

The researchers utilized cells from a fruit fly to screen for small molecules that suppress the signaling pathway vital for the development of myeloproliferative neoplasms in humans. Additional testing confirmed this effect in human cells, including cells that carry the mutated gene responsible for myeloproliferative neoplasms.

Low dose MTX is commonly used to treat inflammatory conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn's disease and psoriasis, with limited side effects. Higher doses of the drug are also used in some cancers where side effects are substantial and similar to other chemotherapy drugs, the study noted.

"Finding new uses for existing drugs is a great way to speed up improvements in treatment, as these drugs will have previously been through safety tests,” said Nell Barrie, senior science information manager at Cancer Research UK. “Methotrexate is already used as a chemotherapy drug for several types of cancer, and this early research shows that at much lower doses it could have the potential to help treat certain blood disorders."