Experimental MS drug may also treat leukaemia

In collaboration with the Press Association

A drug currently being tested as a treatment for multiple sclerosis may one day prove useful in treating certain forms of leukaemia as well, researchers have found.

In early-stage tests, the drug, called fingolimod, was found to prevent the development of advanced chronic myelogenous leukaemia (CML) and acute lymphocytic leukaemia (ALL) in mice, and also killed human CML and ALL cells that had been grown in the laboratory.

Researchers from the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Centre found that when they gave the drug to 39 mice with the two forms of leukaemia, 90 per cent were still alive after six months.

In contrast, the majority of the 39 control mice - which were not given the drug - died within four weeks of the start of the trial.

The researchers hope that, if further trials prove successful, the drug may one day be used to treat patients with these forms of leukaemia, particularly those who are resistant to current treatment options imatinib (Gleevec) and dasatinib (Sprycel).

Co-author Guido Marcucci, oncologist and associate professor of internal medicine, commented: "This novel agent represents a promising new strategy for treating CML that is resistant to imatinib and related targeted agents.

"These findings also suggest that it will be an important contribution to a new therapeutic approach to CML that considers combinations of molecular targeting compounds."

The drug works by reactivating a protein called PP2A, which is often faulty in leukaemia cells. PP2A normally protects against cancer by causing them to self-destruct when damaged.

Publishing their findings in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, Danilo Perrotti, principal investigator and assistant professor of molecular virology, immunology and medical genetics, revealed that the drug did not affect healthy cells and even worked in leukaemia cells taken from patients who were resistant to the treatments imatinib and dasatinib.

"If this is verified in future studies, it means that this drug might help patients who do not respond to other therapies," Dr Perrotti said.

He added that the findings "support the use of this PP2A activator as a novel therapeutic approach in these particular leukaemias and, perhaps, in other cancers that involve the functional loss of PP2A activity".