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New use of anti-parasitic drug to potentially treat cancer
Unprecedented use of niclosamide, an FDA-approved anti-parasitic drug, to kill p53-defective cancer cells

Clinicians and scientists from Singapore have discovered the unprecedented use of an FDA-approved drug to kill p53-defective cancer cells.

The discovery was made by a research team led by scientists from A*STAR’s Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology (IMCB), and the findings were published in Nature Communications.

They discovered that niclosamide, an FDA-approved anti-parasitic drug, can effectively kill p53-defective cancer cells, potentially increasing the specificity for cancer targeting and sparing normal cells that carry wildtype p53 (the p53 gene in its natural or non-mutated form).

Mutations of the p53 gene in the human body is the one of the most common occurrences found in cancer cells and is present in over 50 percent of cancers. The p53 gene is a tumour suppressor gene that inhibits the growth of tumours, and if this gene is mutated, cancer cells are able to thrive.

niclosamide, a drug conventionally used in the treatment of intestinal tapeworm infections, was found to induce metabolic stress in colon cancer cells without p53, effectively causing death of these cancer cells. This discovery supports the potential use of niclosamide as a first-in-class drug against a broad spectrum of tumours deficient in p53 functions.

“The advantage of repurposing an FDA-approved drug for novel indications is the quicker time-to-market since information on their pharmacology and potential toxicity is already available. This can help to reduce cost and time in developing new candidate therapies and speed up the pipeline of available therapeutics redirected for targeting cancers,” said Dr Chit Fang Cheok, principal investigator at A*STAR’s IMCB and lead researcher of the study.

Moving forward, the research team plans to test the efficacy of niclosamide against a broader cohort of tumour types from potential cancers such as breast, lung and liver.

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