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Crowdfunding bid to test malaria drug in cancer

16 October 2015  •  Author: Victoria White

Scientists investigating whether a common malaria drug could have a significant impact on colorectal cancer have launched a crowdfunding project to fund their work.


Scientists at St George’s, University of London, and St George’s Hospital, are in the second phase of research into whether artesunate can have a positive effect on colorectal cancer patients by reducing the multiplication of tumour cells and decreasing the risk of cancer spreading or recurring after surgery. If it does the drug could be used to provide a cheap adjunct to current expensive chemotherapy.

Over one million patients are diagnosed with colorectal cancer globally each year. Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in men and the second most common cancer in women and is a leading cause of mortality. In the UK,110 new cases are diagnosed daily, with older patients particularly at risk of death. Current treatments involve complex combinations of surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

Unfortunately all these measures have not increased overall survival rates beyond 60% at the 5 year stage after patients receive a diagnosis.

Professor Sanjeev Krishna, an infectious disease expert at St George’s, who jointly-led the study with Professor Devinder Kumar, said: “We recently investigated and subsequently published a small but very informative study of oral artesunate treatment given to patients who were diagnosed with bowel. In a small clinical pilot trial of 20 patients only one patient in the artesunate group had a recurrence of their cancer after 42 months, compared to 6 in the placebo group (those randomised to receive a non-active dummy pill).

“We now need to do larger studies: to see if these encouraging results are confirmed. Our study is designed to change how we manage colorectal cancer, so if people agree that this is important and worthwhile, we would very much value their involvement and contribution.”

Artesunate only costs around 70p per tablet

“I’m extremely excited about this,” said Professor Devinder Kumar, who has been a colorectal cancer surgeon for three decades. “We already know this is a safe drug that has been taken by tens of millions of people around the world to treat malaria. It only costs about 70p per tablet compared to the £20 or £30 you might expect to spend on a daily dose of chemotherapy.

“If we can repeat the results of this small study in a larger trial this could really be a ground breaker in the treatment of bowel cancer and one that wouldn’t bankrupt the NHS.”

A small charity, Bowel Disease UK, has raised £200,000 to fund this study. However, the team need a further £50,000 to cover trial costs for sponsorship and to purchase the drug. They have therefore formed a partnership with FutSci to launch a crowdfunding campaign to try and raise the funds needed to conduct a larger Phase II trial. So far, they have raised over £39,000. The organisers say that additional funding beyond the £50,000 will enable researchers to carry out specialised molecular testing to see if patients with particular tumour profiles may respond better to artesunate treatment.

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