Old drug effective against drug-resistant leukaemia

An existing anti-cancer drug has been found to be effective against drug-resistant leukaemia.

A study has identified a previously unrecognised action of Pfizer’s axitinib as a potent inhibitor of the dominant mutation that confers drug resistance to all well tolerated treatments in patients with certain types of leukaemia.

Researchers at the Institute for Molecular Medicine Finland studied cancer cells from patients with chronic myelogenous and acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (CML and ALL) that had developed resistance to currently available treatments.

The researchers found that axitinib, a tyrosine kinase inhibitor currently approved to treat certain patients with advanced renal cell carcinoma, effectively eliminated patient-derived drug resistant leukaemia cells.

“If you think of the targeted protein as a lock into which the cancer drug fits in as a key, the resistant protein changes in such a way that we need a different key.

“In the case of axitinib, it acts as two distinct keys – one for renal cell carcinoma and one for leukaemia,” explained Brion Murray, Pfizer research fellow and one of the lead authors of the study.

“Since axitinib is already used to treat cancer, its safety is known and a formal exploration of its clinical utility in drug resistant leukaemia can now be done in a fast-track mode,” said another lead author Kimmo Porkka, head of haematology at Helsinki University Central Hospital.

The findings were published online in the journal Nature.

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