Common worm medicine can stop cancer

Development of small molecule immunomodulating cancer drugs using mebendazole as a model

Common worm medicine can stop cancer

“An extensive test had shown that MBZ appears to activate the immune system. I gave it to one of my patients, for whom there were no other treatment options, and after six weeks the tumour had reduced drastically.”

Today, there are not enough effective medicines to treat the major cancerous diseases. The survival time for patients with gastrointestinal cancer, who receive the best available treatment, is six months to two years.

“The result of treatment is poor. So the fact that MBZ triggers the body’s immune system to fight the cancer was a new and very interesting discovery”, says Peter Nygren.

Twice the effect

Together with the team, Peter Nygren is now pursuing two tracks. The first is to develop today’s MBZ for the treatment of tumours. The second is to develop similar but better molecules, known as analogues:

“We want to develop molecules with even stronger effects on the immune system, as well as improve them in other ways, for example how they are absorbed from the intestine.”

44 new molecules have been constructed and, so far, four of them have proved interesting. The best one is twice as effective as MBZ.

“We will develop another 50 molecules so that we eventually have eight to ten to choose from. This is happening now, in 2017. At the same time, we are preparing clinical tests with an MBZ variant that is better absorbed, and we expect to be ready for patient trials in the first quarter of 2018.”

Can it be applied to other forms of cancer?

There is a great market for it as the need for a new drug is huge.

“It is also quite possible that it will work equally well on breast and lung cancer. Unlike our competitors, who also aim to treat cancer through the immune system, our drug will be available as a pill or a capsule. Others are administered intravenously and are expensive to manufacture.”

In five years, Peter Nygren hopes that he and his colleagues at Repos Pharma will have developed MBZ into an approved cancer treatment.

“Or, even better, that by then we’re close to achieving an approved and even better drug through one of our analogues. But we need more support to do just that – molecules are expensive to manufacture and we need to have enough information to support our decision on which one would be the most interesting to pursue.”

Updated: 19 June 2017

Text: Jörgen Olsson