The combination of a cholesterol-lowering drug and a contraceptive drug has been shown in a UK clinical trial to be potentially safer and more effective at treating certain leukaemia patients than conventional chemotherapy.
The Birmingham University researchers treated patients with acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) with the cholesterol-lowering drug Bezafibrate (BEZ) and the female contraceptive drug Medroxyprogesterone Acetate (MPA). As with over half of patients with AML, these patients were all too frail to undergo the debilitating chemotherapy that is usually used to treat the cancer.
The study, which is published in the British Journal of Haematology, showed that patients treated with the drugs had none of the side effects of chemotherapy and that survival was improved by several months. The patients, who all had a poor prognosis and would have only been expected to live for less than two months on average without treatment, survived for an average of five months when treated with BEZ and MPA.
The scientists, who were funded by Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research, have established that when BEZ and MPA are given together they are able to destroy AML cells because they block a key enzyme within the leukaemia cells. The enzyme is critical for the survival and growth of AML cells, but blocking its action causes the cells to self-destruct.
Dr Chris Bunce at the University of Birmingham, who has developed the therapy and led the research, said: “Normal chemotherapy can be fatal for frail patients because it attacks healthy blood cells as well as the leukaemia cells. This new treatment for AML is very exciting because it only targets the leukaemia cells. It has no significant toxicities, which means that in future trials we can use higher doses of the drugs that our laboratory based studies suggest will generate even more promising survival rates for patients.”
Dr David Grant, Scientific Director at Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research, said: “Patients who are elderly or have relapsed after their leukaemia treatment are often not fit enough to tolerate rounds of gruelling chemotherapy and survival rates are low for this group. The very intriguing success of these two non-cancer drugs in increasing survival rates offers real hope for these AML patients.”
The patients on the trial were treated at Birmingham’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital and hospitals across the West Midlands and Glasgow. Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research currently has £8,500,000 invested in blood cancer research in Birmingham.