Doxorubicin: New Use for an Old Drug

Existing Drug Gets a Makeover to Help Fight Pancreatic Cancer

Among the novel approaches in experimental therapeutics today is one based on an intriguing question: Can you teach an old drug new tricks?

Monica Mita, MD, Co-Director of the Samuel Oschin Comprehensive Cancer Institute’s Experimental Therapeutics Program, is among researchers who believe the answer is “yes.” She is collaborating in a Phase II clinical trial to determine whether reformulating a chemotherapy drug that’s been around for decades could lead to better outcomes for patients with advanced pancreatic cancer.

Doxorubicin has long been a standard chemotherapy for treating breast cancer and sarcomas, among other types of cancer. Now Dr. Mita and research partners at the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) in Phoenix, Ariz., are examining whether the drug can be safely given at a higher concentration that penetrates pancreatic tumors more effectively, with less damage to healthy tissue.

This is one of the first projects in an ongoing partnership the Cancer Institute has established with TGen to accelerate development of new anticancer drugs. The Phase II trial builds on pancreatic cancer research originated by Daniel D. Von Hoff, MD, Physician-in-Chief and Director of Translational Research at TGen.

Dr. Mita notes that the clinical trial focuses on patients who have been through one or two courses of standard therapy without success. “Treatment options are limited for patients with advanced pancreatic cancer, and their prognosis is very poor,” she says. “Repurposing an existing drug is a promising strategy that we hope will prolong survival and improve quality of life for these patients.”

Pancreatic cancer cells: An existing chemotherapy drug has been reformulated to attack this type of cancer with less harm to healthy tissue than standard treatment.