Scientists at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute have identified nearly 50 compounds with anti-cancer activity in an analysis of thousands of FDA-approved drugs. These include drugs for alcoholism, inflammation, diabetes, and even arthritis in dogs.
In the study, published in Nature Cancer, researchers analyzed 4,518 drugs – nearly half of all drugs tested in humans – against 578 human cancer cell lines housed in the Broad Institute’s Cancer Cell Line Encyclopedia. The researchers tagged each cell line with a DNA barcode, then exposed each pool of cells to a single compound, measuring the survival rate of cancer cells. Some of the compounds were found to kill cancer cells in novel ways, such as by activating a protein or stabilizing a protein-protein interaction rather than stifling proteins (as most existing cancer drugs do).
These results suggest some drugs could move straight into clinical testing in patients with cancer, but first, scientists will need to ensure the anti-cancer activity is observed at concentrations tolerable in humans. Future research also must confirm that “the predictive biomarkers identified in cell lines represent distinct populations of human tumors,” the authors noted.