Common indigestion medicine could be used in fight against cancer

In In The News by Barbara Jacoby

Thumbnail for 9943By: James McIntosh


The drug cimetidine can increase survival rates in colorectal cancer cases, according to the study published in ecancer.

“Cimetidine is an interesting drug as it’s very safe, very well-known, and has clinical results in cancer that have been confirmed in a number of trials,” says lead author Dr. Pan Pantziarka, a member of the Repurposing Drugs in Oncology (ReDO) project.

In its common usage, cimetidine blocks histamine receptors in the gut, leading to reduced production of gastric acid. It was developed as a treatment for indigestion – also referred to as dyspepsia – and subsequently has been additionally used to treat gastric ulcers and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

However, cimetidine may also block histamine receptors in cancer cells and assist the immune system’s defenses against the disease. Previous research has found the drug having a positive impact against colorectal and gastric cancer, melanoma and renal cell carcinoma.

Dr. Pantziarka describes cimetidine as “one of the most interesting examples of repurposed drugs in oncology.” He states that it is a drug whose efficacy in a range of different cancers has extensive pre-clinical and clinical evidence to support it.

The ReDO project

The National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) refers to “repurposing” as the study of a compound or biologic agent used to treat one disease or condition to see if it is safe and effective for treating other diseases.

The aim of the ReDo project is to repurpose well-known drugs not traditionally used to treat cancer, for new uses in the field of oncology. Drug repurposing is often quicker and cheaper than developing new medicines, as much of the research and testing required for drug development is already done.

In partnership with ecancer and anti-cancer researchers worldwide, the ReDO project will be publishing a series of papers on drugs with potential anti-cancer uses and evidence to take to clinical trials.

Previously, the team examined the anti-cancer potential of mebendazole, a commonly available treatment for threadworm infections. Future papers will examine drugs such as diclofenac – a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) – and the antibiotic clarithromycin.

In the current paper, the authors summarize a range of pre-clinical and clinical studies involving several different types of cancer.

The authors state that cimetidine could work well alongside a number of other drugs, including existing chemotherapeutics. They also find evidence suggesting that the use of cimetidine during surgery may provide a survival benefit in certain cancers. Further exploration of its use as an anti-cancer drug is warranted, they write.

Providing incentive for clinical trials

“Such promising therapies are often ignored since pharmaceutical companies lack financial incentives to develop them further via proper clinical trials,” says co-author Dr. Gauthier Bouche. “The ReDO project was established to find and document such opportunities.”

Other commonly used drugs such as metformin and aspirin are already receiving attention from the research community on account of what they could offer to the treatment of other conditions like cancer. The ReDO project, however, is primarily concerned with the assessment of lesser investigated drugs, such as cimetidine.

The authors recommend that clinicians act on upon their findings and “initiate clinical trials as a matter of some urgency.”

“Cimetidine is a drug that can meet patient needs now,” says Dr. Pantziarka, “so we need to ask ourselves: what’s stopping it being used?”

Repurposed drugs could also be an important weapon against the growing threat of drug resistance. Earlier in the year, Medical News Today reported on how repurposed drugs could be used as potentially effective treatments for resistant forms of tuberculosis