Propranolol as an Anti-Cancer Drug?

Authors extol beta blocker’s benefits

Propranolol, a beta-blocker commonly prescribed to treat irregular heart rates and other conditions, has significant anticancer properties, according to a new study published in ecancer.

The Repurposing Drugs in Oncology (ReDO) project, an international collaboration between the Anticancer Fund, Belgium (AFB) and Global Cures at Harvard Medical School, was established on the premise that existing and widely used noncancer drugs may represent a relatively untapped source of novel therapies for cancer.

Historically, pharmaceutical companies devote little time to “repurposing” existing drugs. The ReDO project aims to change that, raising awareness by publishing a series of articles in ecancer to share evidence for using these therapies in cancer medicine.

Propranolol is the latest in a series of drugs that could offer inexpensive, safe, and effective treatments for cancer, according to study authors. It’s available globally in generic form and is on the World Health Organization’s list of essential medicines––particularly in angiosarcoma, a rare form of heart cancer.

“The evidence to date in angiosarcoma is especially compelling,” said co-author Pan Pantziarka, PhD, of the AFB. “Here is a rare disease with high unmet needs that is unlikely to attract investment from the commercial drug-development sector. Propranolol offers these patients evidence of efficacy and with little or no toxicity.”

“Existing animal and human data on the use of propranolol to treat cancer is tantalizing and merits rapid and careful evaluation in a number of tumor types,” added co-author Vikas P. Sukhatme of Global Cures.

The new study also highlights the potential of propranolol to act on multiple points of the metastatic cascade––especially in the perioperative setting, the authors write.

Postsurgical metastasis is a widespread clinical challenge. “There is good in vivo evidence that propranolol, alone and in combination with other agents, impacts this process,” Pantziarka said. “Reducing metastatic spread ultimately saves lives.”

Gauthier Bouche, Medical Director of the Anticancer Fund, points out that propranolol has already been repurposed to treat childhood benign tumors.

“An effective treatment against infantile hemangioma had existed since the 1960s, but we only discovered this in 2008 when careful clinicians found it serendipitously. Every day I ask myself, ‘What else can propranolol offer to patients with unmet needs?’ I think there is a lot, and we shouldn't have to wait another 40 years to find out.”

Sources: Medical Xpress; October 13, 2016; and ecancer; October 12, 2016.