A drug commonly used to treat arthritis may also help stem the growth of the deadliest skin cancer tumours,a new study has found.
The potentially life-saving research by scientists from Britain and the US found that the drug,leflunomide,reduced significantly the growth of tumour in mice with human-like melanoma.
The effect was even more powerful when leflunomide was combined with an experimental melanoma drug called PLX4720.
Working together,the researchers said,the two compounds virtually halted cancer growth,the Daily Mail reported.
As leflunomide is used to treat a human disease and known to be safe,the trials process should be faster than usual,the researchers said and hoped that a new treatment for melanoma based on the drug may be available within five years.
Study co-author Dr Grant Wheeler from the University of East Anglia’s School of Biological Sciences said: “This is a really exciting discovery – making use of an existing drug specifically to target melanoma.
“Deaths from melanoma skin cancer are increasing and there is a desperate need for new,more effective treatments.
“We are very optimistic that this research will lead to novel treatments for melanoma tumours which,working alongside other therapies,will help to stop them progressing.”
Unlike the case with most other cancers,melanoma rates are increasing and more than 10,000 people are diagnosed with the disease each year in the UK alone.
If caught early surgery can be used to remove melanoma tumours,but the prospects for patients with spreading disease are not good.
Leflunomide was first identified as a potential skin cancer therapy after the East Anglia team observed its effect on the development of pigment cells in tadpoles.
It is the uncontrolled growth of pigment cells in both tadpoles and humans that leads to melanoma.
Working with US colleagues from the Children’s Hospital in Boston,Massachusetts,the researchers went on to show how the drug inhibited skin tumours in mice.
Other research focused on zebra fish,which can also be genetically engineered to mimic human melanoma.
Dr Richard White,from the Children’s Hospital Boston and Harvard Medical School,said: “Cancer is a disease not only of genetic mutations,but also one determined by the identity of the cell in which the tumour arises.
“By studying cancer development in zebra fish and frogs,we gain a unique insight into the very earliest changes that occur in those cells.”
The researchers are now hoping for sooner clinical trials to investigate the effect of leflunomide on melanoma patients.