Drugs previously used to fight epilepsy could treat cancer

Get A-Head and QEHB Charity have launched a £1 million appeal with the University of Birmingham to fund a new programme giving cancer patients access to new drugs quicker than anywhere else in the country.

Drug development through pharmaceutical companies using the conventional approaches can take up to 15 years before they reach patients, and have a 90% failure rate.

Due to these difficulties, a team of eager researchers at the University of Birmingham decided to set up an accelerated drug treatment programme to see if drugs licensed to treat other illnesses could be used as treatments for head and neck cancer.

By working with a team at the Institute of Head and Neck Studies and Education (InHANSE), led by Professor Hisham Mehanna, Chair of Head and Neck Surgery, patients at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham could receive new treatments within the next two years – speeding up the process of recovery for patients and cutting the cost to the NHS.

Donations have helped fund a Get A-Head research technician, Baksho Kaul, and a QEHB Charity research fellow, Nikos Batis. Nikos is running and analysing the data from hundreds of experiments that the team undertakes to find out if re-purposed drugs can be used to treat certain types of cancer. Baksho works alongside Nikos in the laboratory.

Whilst head and neck and thyroid cancer is the 7th most common cancer in the UK, it does not feature in the list of top fifteen most-funded cancers in terms of research, meaning that research into head and neck cancer is poorly supported in the UK. Donations to Get A-Head have been spent on research that is truly ground-breaking and desperately required.

Nikos, a 33-year-old who has studied and lived in Birmingham for the past 13 years, joined the programme after completing a PhD in Pharmacology and Neuroscience. Always interested in discovering new uses for drugs, Nikos hopes his work with the Accelerated drugs programme at the QE, will help  in the fight against cancer.

He said: “Cancer is indiscriminate. It affects people of all ages and all races and indirectly, the patients’ loved ones. This appeal is about speeding up treatment by matching existing drugs, which have already been approved in other conditions like arthritis, to cancers where they have not been tried before.

“If this programme is successful, it means that patients won’t have to wait up to 15 years to receive brand-new drugs, the current 90% failure rate will be avoided and the half-a-billion pound spend will be dramatically reduced.

“Drugs that have been used to fight cholesterol or epilepsy, for example, could help fight cancer, we just need to test them out, which is why we need your support.”