A widely used parasitic drug that’s known as a “worm-eating” medication has shrunk tumors or stopped cancer growth in preclinical models of pancreatic cancer, researchers from Penn Medicine’s Abramson Cancer Center say. The results, published in Cancer Discovery, could lead to new ways to treat one of the most aggressive and deadly types of cancer.
The anti-parasitic drug fenbendazole, also called Safe-Guard or Panacur, dominated the pharmaceutical market almost immediately after its launch, and is currently available in oral granules or liquid suspension. It can be administered daily or weekly and is well tolerated by humans.
In an experiment involving mice with pancreatic cancer, the Penn team found that the drug — given alone or in combination with gemcitabine, a chemotherapy drug — significantly shrunk or stopped the growth of pancreatic cancer cells and prevented them from spreading to other tissues. They analyzed the effect by measuring cell viability, clonogenicity and migration.
Patients with pancreatic cancer often have very advanced tumors by the time they are diagnosed, and only about 10 percent survive five years after diagnosis. Many conventional therapies, including chemotherapies and immunotherapy, are not effective against these aggressive and resistant tumors.
In an earlier study, the MIT team reported that combining a PD-1 inhibitor with a TIGIT inhibitor and a CD40 agonist antibody — drugs in development by two pharmaceutical companies — led to an 87 percent improvement in survival in a mouse model of pancreatic cancer. A clinical trial of this triple therapy is expected to begin later this year. fenbendazole for pancreatic cancer