What's in the cancer research pipeline?
March 19, 2018 6:34 PM   Subscribe

What are some potential cancer therapies that look scientifically promising, but are not (yet) sufficiently studied / approved / standard? What treatments look like they have a good chance of becoming part of standard medical practice in the near future, but aren't quite there yet?

The kind of treatments I'm curious about are ones with a solid basis in scientific theory -- i.e. there are good reasons to think they might work, given what we know about cancer -- and ideally, ones that have shown promising results in animal or human studies so far, but that are not currently part of standard cancer care.

A possible example, to show the kind of thing I'm looking for: I've read (don't have an English-language link for this, unfortunately) that supplementation with amorphous calcium has been shown to reduce tumors in mice, and that there are good theoretical reasons why it might do this by inducing apoptosis. I don't know enough to assess this particular claim, but it shows the kind of thing I'm looking for: i.e. appears to be based in standard cancer science and to have some experimental evidence behind it.

I'm particularly interested in non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, but don't want to limit the question to any specific type of cancer.
posted by zeri to Health & Fitness (11 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Mebendazole is a well-studied drug used for the elimination of parasites like pinworms. It's been found to be effective in slowing, or even killing, many cancers. It works by interfering with the microtubules. It is nearly lacking in the kinds of side-effects that conventional chemotherapy is known for. In fact, it used to be available over the counter (and used to be cheap, though it has shot up many times in price since its efficacy in fighting cancer has been suggested). I don't know if it's shown results yet in non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
posted by Schmucko at 6:49 PM on March 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

CRISPR/Cas-9 or whatever it becomes - targeted gene editing.

I'm gonna wash those mut's right outta my strands ....
posted by Dashy at 7:13 PM on March 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

Valter Longo’s fasting-mimicking protocol has been studied in mice and is now in human trials. The human trials are using a proprietary product called Chemolieve. It seems to make the chemo more effective while reducing the severity of side effects. There’s a YouTube video on Longo’s work that shows mice during chemotherapy who are fasting versus those on normal diets, and the difference is startling. Also, when mice were given very high doses of chemo, the mice who were fasting survived, but the mice on normal diets all died. Longo’s company also has a fasting-mimicking product called Prolon that is not appropriate for cancer patients but that seems to provide health benefits. Money earned from these products goes to more research.

Also of interest is CAR T cell therapy, which has been approved by the FDA for some cancers and is in clinical trials for others. I believe it’s been approved for some leukemias.
posted by FencingGal at 7:15 PM on March 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

Also, this is an interesting TED talk by a scientist who is studying dandelion root extract at the University of Windsor.
posted by FencingGal at 7:20 PM on March 19, 2018

Immunotherapy is very hot right now, from antibodies against various receptors (PD-L1, etc) to various kids of engineered immune cells (Chimeric antigen receptor T-cells).
posted by pombe at 7:50 PM on March 19, 2018 [3 favorites]

The NIH Developmental Therapeutics study section is cancer focused. You can use the NIH reporter website to see what is funded out of that study section to get an idea of what is surviving peer review for federal funding (which is a good proxy for which projects have federal $$ behind them for cancer therapy).
posted by Doc_Sock at 9:36 PM on March 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

If you want to really trawl the depths of what NIH is funding (from your question, what you probably want is work funded by the National Cancer Institute), you can query NIH RePORTER, which is the database of NIH-supported funded work. You'll get a ~2 paragraph description of any funded grant.
posted by Making You Bored For Science at 9:38 AM on March 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

Pombe has it- using monoclonal antibodies to harness the immune system to fight cancer is well established at this point, with multiple existing approvals and many more in development and clinical trials. CAR-T is one of the actual applications of CRISPR and it’s at the point now where monoclonal were 5 years ago, with a couple FDA approvals providing proof of concept and regulatory approval, and then a gold rush to generate new targets and expand to different types of cancer. Basically, you take blood from a patient, separate out some immune cells, culture and mutate them to recognize cancer and recruit the immune system, then reintroduce. Here is a good CAR-T resource.
posted by permiechickie at 9:55 AM on March 20, 2018

Oncolytic (cancer cell killing) viruses are pretty neat and in early stages of approval, though I don't think they're a standard treatment yet.

Immunotherapy is a very broad group of treatments that has exploded in the past decade or so, with several amazingly successful treatments approved and many others in the pipeline.

Those were the two areas that were most promising when I was a grad student in cancer research a couple years ago. Immunotherapy was a particularly hot field at the time, and, as far as I know, still is.

CRISPR is a very powerful new tool, but keep in mind that the DNA of cancer cells is a huge mess, with large genetic differences between cancer cells even in the same tumour that change over time, so you can't just go in and snip out all the bad parts, even with CRISPR DNA-editing technology. CRISPR could definitely lead to new treatments though, eg by allowing new immunotherapy strategies as mentioned above.
posted by randomnity at 10:15 AM on March 20, 2018

I'm currently involved in work with both mebendazole (mentioned above) and oncolytic viruses. The future of cancer medicine will be personalized: personalized to your genome, the genetic profile of the tumor, and your immune system, rather than just tumor type based on pathology. Most cancers will never (within our lifetimes and likely our children and grandchildren's) have a "cure", only treatments that will manage the disease. There will be a day when getting a cancer diagnosis is more like getting an HIV diagnosis today: not great, but with treatment not an automatic death sentence.
posted by SinAesthetic at 2:18 PM on March 20, 2018 [4 favorites]

Not an expert like others here, but heard a couple of podcasts recently, one about the Clarity Trial for treating leukemia, and the other about a trial of CIMAvax in the US.
posted by idb at 8:59 AM on March 21, 2018

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