A class of drugs already used to treat a blood disorder could be used to treat stomach and colorectal cancer, according to new research from Australia.
Called JAK inhibitors, the drugs are currently used to treat a cancer-like condition called myelofibrosis. They are also undergoing clinical trials for use as a treatment for leukaemia, lymphoma, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and other conditions.
In the journal Molecular Cancer Therapeutics, Matthias Ernst, an associate professor at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research in Parkville, Victoria, and colleagues report how they found JAK inhibitors reduce the growth of inflammation-associated stomach and colorectal cancer.
More recently, they have had some success in unravelling the complex molecular signaling that goes on in inflamed tissue, such as that which occurs in a stomach ulcer or inflammatory bowel disease, and how this might drive cancer development.
That work helped them understand the molecules that help cancer cells grow and survive, and to identify the ones that can be targeted with potential anti-cancer drugs.
JAK proteins are involved in growth of stomach and colorectal cancer
In this new study, they investigated molecules known as JAK proteins, which are involved in the development of cancer in the stomach and bowel.
In mouse models of stomach and colorectal cancer, JAK inhibitors slowed tumor growth and killed cancer cells.
When they tested the effect of drugs that block the JAK proteins - known as JAK inhibitors - in mouse models of stomach and colorectal cancer, they found they slowed the growth of tumors and killed many of the cancer cells.
Thus the study provides the first evidence, in live mice, of several proteins that could serve as valuable targets for treating cancers of the digestive tract.
This is significant because JAK inhibitors are already available and have been tested in clinical trials for treating cancer-like blood disorders, as Prof. Ernst explains:
"The reason this discovery is particularly exciting is clinical trials have already shown that JAK proteins can be safely and successfully inhibited in patients."
He adds that they hope this will shorten the time it takes to bring their "research to possible clinical trials that may improve the outlook for people with stomach and bowel cancer."
Financial sponsorship for the study came from the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council, the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research and the Victorian Government.
In December 2013, Medical News Today reported a study where researchers in Canada found a new colorectal cancer target in a stem cell gene. They discovered that switching off the gene stopped the cancer stem cells from renewing themselves, a find that could lead to treatments that shut the cancer down.