Drugs for Heart Disease, Infections Show Promise as Cancer Fighters

Treatments approved for heart failure, cardiac arrhythmia, and infections offer epigenetic effects in cancer therapy.

Some antibiotics and drugs typically used to treat heart-related diseases show promise in treating cancer, according to a recent study.

In a study published in Cancer Research, investigators sought to explore treatment options that could reverse the deregulation of cells, which can lead to tumor formation.

The study included a screening of more than 1100 drugs that were FDA approved and chose 14 of the most promising medications through a cellular model. Among these drugs are treatments for heart failure, cardiac arrhythmia, and infection.

"We identified a dozen or so drugs that reactivate tumor suppressor genes through an epigenetic mechanism that was never observed before," said Noël Raynal, MSc, PhD. "Epigenetic mechanisms control gene expression. They are highly deregulated in cancer cells. The mechanism that we discovered controls gene expression by targeting intracellular calcium levels."

New Treatment for Cancer?

The most notable drugs selected were cardiac glycosides and antibiotics, which had epigenetic effects that were not previously known.

"We discovered that modifying intercellular calcium fluxes could serve as a therapeutic target to modify epigenetic alterations in cancer cells,” Raynal said. “All our drug candidates had in common their ability to act on the calcium channel and activate an enzyme essential for the anticancer effect."

Furthermore, since half of the drugs were cardiac glycosides, researchers were able to discover a class effect.

"This is consistent with epidemiological studies showing less cancer in patients treated with cardiac glycosides, and less aggressive cancers in patients that did have cancer," Raynal said.

Currently, there are only 4 drugs approved for the reprograming of cancer cells that act on the mechanisms, histone modification, and DNA methylation, to restore epigenetic health.

The drugs that were tested have already been approved by the FDA for safety and efficacy in humans, which means they could be available to patients quicker.

"We need more research on drugs that target intracellular calcium signaling, such as cardiac glycosides and antibiotics,” Raynal said. “They hold huge potential for expanding the number of effective drugs to cure cancer patients."

The researchers are currently leading a clinical study in order to find new hope for children with tumors or refractory leukemia who don’t have additional therapy options.