A drug developed to fight cancer may prove effective in treating patients with heart-lung disease, says a new study.
Researchers from the University of Chicago have suggested that the cancer drug known as sorafenib (Nexavar(r)) has shown the potential for treating pulmonary hypertension.
The human trials of the drug showed eight out of the first nine patients increased their ability to exercise.
Six out of nine had significant improvements in right ventricular ejection fraction, the ability of the heart to pump blood to the lungs, and four had a significant decrease in pulmonary artery pressures.
"This is not a disease where we are used to seeing people who have been stable on the strongest medications we have suddenly get better," said study author Mardi Gomberg-Maitland, MD, MSc, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Chicago.
"We have drugs that may slow progression of the disease but nothing that can stop or reverse the process.
"To see these improvements in such a short time is quite promising. Although evaluation of this drug is at a very early stage, and this study focused on safety and tolerability, we are genuinely excited about the results," she added.
Preclinical trials conducted by Gomberg-Maitland demonstrated that sorafenib was effective in reducing pulmonary hypertension in a rat model.
Pulmonary hypertension and cancer share certain features. Both diseases involve abnormal cellular growth.
During the clinical trials, patients pulmonary hypertension took their standard medications, primarily prostacyclin, in combination with sildenafil. They also took sorafenib for 16 weeks, but at doses lower than those given to cancer patients.
"All patients had some improvement. Some had dramatic improvement," said Gomberg-Maitland.
The findings revealed that patients increased their exercise capacity, as measured by time on a treadmill or a six-minute walk test and had an eight-percent improvement, on average, in right ventricular ejection fraction, as measured by three-dimensional echocardiography.
Four patients had significant improvements in the ability of the heart to pump blood to the lungs, as measured by cardiac catheterization.
The researchers presented their findings at the American Thoracic Society International Conference in Toronto, Canada.