New research in the fight against cancer has shown that a set of drugs which up until now were used to treat illnesses like heart failure, cardiac arrhythmia and infections might actually be effective in combating the growth of cancer cells.
The study, published online in the journal Cancer Research, looked at over 1,100 U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) -approved drugs to determine their epigenetic properties -a list that included cardiac glycosides and antibiotics- and found through cellular modeling that some of these drugs had the required properties to affect the genetic expression of the cell.
“All our drug candidates had in common their ability to act on the calcium channel and activate an enzyme essential for the anticancer effect,” says Noel Raynal, investigator at the mother-child research hospital CHU Sainte-Justine in Montreal.
Epigenetics in cancer research looks to the various ways that a cell’s genetic code is expressed -how the cell reads its DNA- and tries to isolate factors that lead to alterations causing cancer.
Targeting epigenetic pathways is a promising approach for cancer therapy. We have found that targeting calcium signaling can reverse epigenetic silencing of tumor suppressor genes.
Within a cell’s DNA makeup is a set of tumor suppressor genes that normally function to prevent or slow down cell division, effectively acting as a break on rampant cell growth. But in the cancerous cells these tumor suppressor genes are not expressed. If researchers can find ways to reactivate the expression of TSGs, they will be combating the growth of cancer cells.
“Targeting epigenetic pathways is a promising approach for cancer therapy,” say the study’s authors, “We have found that targeting calcium signaling can reverse epigenetic silencing of tumor suppressor genes.”
An added plus is that clinical validation of these drugs for use in cancer treatment will likely result in a quick turnaround, since these drugs have already been approved by the FDA for other purposes.
Cancer epigenetics is fast becoming a key weapon in cancer research. Pharmaceutical giant Merck recently agreed to back a research program to the tune of $515 million (USD) which focuses on an enzyme important to the development of cancer and blood disease, according to the website Fierce Biotech. This is reportedly Merck’s first public partnership in the field of epigenetics.
And in an article for the online publication Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology News, Jim Corbett, president of the human health business at medical research multinational PerkinElmer, says epigenetics is only going to become more important for cancer research going forward. “The emergence of selective genome-editing technologies such as CRISPR will apply in epigenetics and epigenome editing. I envision in the future the emergence of personalized epigenetic profiles in patients,” Corbett says.
The publication also reports that epigenetics will grow in market reach from approximately $2.9 billion in 2012 to about $12 billion (USD) in 2018 and that there have been 40 per cent year-on-year increases in epigenetics-related scientific publications occurring over the past decade, accompanied by a substantial increase in research funding with more than 40 epigenetics-related drugs currently undergoing clinical trials.