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Using old drugs for new cancer treatments

A new, more effective treatment for bladder cancer will soon be available to patients, thanks to research at the University of Bradford. The drug, Apaziquone, has been shown in clinical trials to significantly reduce recurrence of the disease.

Apaziquone was first developed in the 1990s as a treatment for a range of cancers, but then abandoned as it was not sufficiently effective. However, a team from the University of Bradford’s Institute of Cancer Therapeutics took a second look at the drug, to see why it hadn’t worked as expected. They discovered that the drug was quickly destroyed in the patient’s bloodstream and didn’t easily penetrate tumour tissue. Far from rejecting the drug as a result, they realised that this made it ideal for treating bladder cancer.

Bladder cancer is the fifth most common form of cancer in the UK, and treatment for the majority of cases is surgery, followed by chemotherapy. The chemotherapy drug is administered directly into the bladder, rather than into the bloodstream. Using Apaziquone in this way would ensure it wasn’t destroyed before it could reach the tumour, giving it a chance to work to its full potential.

An initial trial was carried out in Bradford, which showed that the drug worked as the team expected, leading to more extensive trials in Europe and America. Typically, within five years of treatment, around 80% of patients with bladder cancer have a recurrence of the disease. Of those treated with Apaziquone, only 49.5% have seen the disease return after two years.

The success of the trials and the reduction in recurrence rates has led to the drug being awarded ‘fast track’ status by the Food and Drug Administration in the USA, a process designed to speed up the development and approval of drugs for treating serious diseases. Further clinical trials are underway, and it is hoped the drug will soon be available widely for use with patients.

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