Common anti-fungal drug found to stop blood vessel growth

In collaboration with the Press Association

A drug commonly used to treat toenail fungus can also block the growth of new blood vessels, researchers have discovered.

Researchers at the John Hopkins University found that the drug itraconazole can block angiogenesis, the growth of new blood vessels commonly seen in cancers.

The drug reduced blood vessel growth by 67 per cent in mice which had been induced to have excess blood vessel growth.

Dr Jun Liu, professor of pharmacology at John Hopkins, commented: "We were surprised to say the least that itraconazole popped up as a potential blocker of angiogenesis.

"We couldn't have predicted that an antifungal drug would have such a role," he said.

The researchers had tested 2,400 existing drugs, both approved and non-approved, on cells from human umbilical cords to determine which ones were capable of stopping the cells from dividing.

Dr Liu said that finding an effective drug that was already approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was "very satisfying".

Although the researchers are uncertain as to why the drug causes blood vessels to stop growing, itraconazole is known to work as an antifungal drug by blocking a key enzyme from making fungal cholesterol.

Dr Liu said: "Our screening test did show that cholesterol-lowering statins also appear to stop blood vessel growth, so there is likely some important connection between cholesterol and angiogenesis."

The researchers are now conducting further studies to determine exactly how the drug works and to test it in animal models of the disease.

"Itraconazole can be taken orally for fungal infection, and therefore oral delivery may work for angiogenesis as well," Dr Liu added.