A common anti-viral drug called ribavirin may prove to be beneficial in the treatment of cancer patients, according to a groundbreaking Canada-wide clinical trial.
Led by Dr. Katherine Borden, at the Institute for Research in Immunology and Cancer (IRIC) of the Universite de Montreal, the study has shown that that ribavirin suppresses the activities of the eIF4E gene in patients.
The eIF4E gene is dysregulated in 30 percent of cancers including breast, prostate, head and neck, colon and stomach cancer.
While Borden and her team monitored molecular events in trial patients, Dr. Sarit Assouline of the Segal Cancer Centre, Jewish General Hospital, led the clinical part of the trial.
The integration of these two teams made it possible to rapidly move from a research lab to patient tests.
The study team targeted the gene by giving trial participants a mimic of its natural target, ribavirin.
"Our results are the first to show that targeting eIF4E in humans is clinically beneficial. We also found that ribavirin not only blocks eIF4E, it has no side effect on patients," said Borden.
In the trial, the researchers studied patients with M4/M5 acute myeloid leukaemia who had undergone several other treatments that had previously failed.
"We had striking clinical improvements with even partial and complete remissions," said Assouline.
Dr. Wilson Miller, director of the Clinical Research Unit, Jewish General Hospital, and co-investigator in the trial added: "It's rare that discoveries in basic research move to clinical so quickly and successfully."
Borden explained: "Combination therapy with chemotherapeutic agents may enhance the efficacy of this treatment. Trials in the near future are planned to overcome this and we are looking forward to more complete remissions. We also hope to test whether ribavirin is as effective in the treatment of other cancers with dysregulated eIF4E. Our laboratory studies suggest this is likely."
The study has been published in the journal Blood.