Feb. 6 (UPI) -- A combination of popular diabetes and immunotherapy drugs can kill breast cancer, a new study says.
A mix of the diabetes drug metformin and leukemia drug venetoclax were both able to destroy cancerous tumors in mice, according to a study published in Nature Publications.
Researchers in the study found that MYC, a cancer-activating gene that overexpresses in about 40 percent of breast cancers, could be used to target cancer cells with the drug cocktail.
"This drug combo exploits specific metabolic vulnerabilities that high levels of MYC creates in tumor cells. Metformin and venetoclax, when given together, killed breast tumor cells in culture and blocked tumor growth in breast cancer animal models," Juha Klefstrom, research director at the University of Helsinki, said in a news release. "Furthermore, the drugs efficiently killed authentic breast cancer tissue donated by breast cancer patients. The breast cancer samples were obtained fresh from surgeries performed in Helsinki University Hospital."
For the study, researchers treated tumors in mice with the metformin-venetoclax combo, then performed surgery to remove them.
"With this combination, the survival of mice carrying implanted tumors was extended dramatically in comparison to mice that were treated with only single or double combinations," Klefstrom said.
Then, to eradicate any existing cancer cells, they treated the removal spot with the same drug mix combined with an immunotherapy PD-1-targeted antibody.
"This is a great example of how scientists in academia, leveraging highly specialized tumor models and applying their unique insights, can contribute to the discovery of potential new treatments for people with cancer. It is also a testament to the great research being done in smaller countries like Finland," said Joel Leverson, a senior scientific director at biopharmaceutical company AbbVie and study senior author.
The American Cancer Society estimates that nearly 270,000 women will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer this year. Roughly 42,000 will die from the disease.
The researchers said they are working toward a clinical trial in humans of the drug combination.