28 September 2012
A cannabis-like drug is to be tested on patients with advanced cancers by UK scientists.
The early stage trial will investigate the potential of dexanabinol for treating a range of solid tumours.
A similar Phase I study looking at brain cancer is already under way in the US. Results from both are expected next year.
Dexanabinol is from a family of compounds called cannabinoids and related to the active chemicals in cannabis. However, it is made in the laboratory and causes none of the psychological effects associated with the drug.
Lead researcher Professor Ruth Plummer, from the University of Newcastle, said: ‘The starting point for this trial was to map networks of proteins that appear to have a role in cancer, identify points at which these networks could be disrupted, and then see if there were existing drugs to target these points.
‘It was this novel approach – known as network pharmacology – that first highlighted the potential cancer-fighting properties of dexanabinol, which was originally developed to treat patients with severe head injuries. While this certainly illustrates that there may be compounds with real therapeutic potential related to those found in cannabis, it also points to the importance of applying rigorous scientific methods when selecting molecules that might have potential as cancer treatments.
‘This is a Phase I trial, so the main aim will be to establish what dose is safe and assess any side effects. But we’ll also be looking out to see what effect, if any, the drug has on the patient’s cancer.’
Around 45 patients are being recruited to take part in the trial. All will have advanced solid tumours that cannot be helped by further existing treatment.
The study is being funded by the drug’s manufacturer, UK-based e-Therapeutics.
It will be based at the Cancer Research UK and National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Experimental Cancer Medicine Centre in Newcastle.
Dr Joanna Reynolds, Cancer Research UK’s director of centres, said: ‘The potential anticancer properties of chemicals found in cannabis were first touched on by scientists in the 1970s.
‘But it’s only now that we have robust laboratory evidence in place, alongside reliable techniques for manufacturing safe and practical drugs related to these chemicals, that we’re at the crucial stage of being able to embark on trials in cancer patients.
‘It’s the job of the Experimental Cancer Medicine Network to help speed up the journey of new drugs from the bench to the bedside and we’re delighted to be supporting some of the first steps towards hopefully turning this painstaking research into new treatments that could benefit patients.’