Common Heart Drug Repurposed to Treat Rare Soft Tissue Cancer in Europe

A drug that's commonly used to treat high blood pressure is being repurposed for a rare tissue cancer in Europe. The medication, named propranolol, was recently granted Orphan Drug Designation by the European Commission (EC). The designation signifies that the EC supports the use of a drug to treat patients because of its significant benefit to those living with a rare disease -- in this case, soft tissue sarcoma. The cancer affects approximately one quarter of a million people living in Europe, and is generally considered difficult to treat. "People with soft tissue sarcomas have a very poor survival rate," says Brad Bryan, Ph.D., a biomedical scientist at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso (TTUHSC El Paso). "Four out of 10 patients with the cancer will die and are in urgent need of new treatment options." Propranolol's ability to treat angiosarcoma, a very lethal form of soft tissue sarcoma, was originally discovered by Dr. Bryan's TTUHSC El Paso lab. In his study, Dr. Bryan used cell lines and animal models to show that propranolol could fight angiosarcoma and remarkably reduce the growth of tumors; the results were published in a 2013 PLOS One paper. Later, in a 2015 JAMA Dermatology article, Dr. Bryan described treating a patient with angiosarcoma -- who only had months left to live -- and bringing the tumor down to undetectable levels. What's more, the treatment had little to no side effects. Several scientists across the world have reported similar results since then, testing propranolol on their own patients with the rare cancer. A 69-year-old woman with metastatic angiosarcoma made a full recovery after being treated with propranolol by Shripad Banavali, M.D., an oncologist at Tata Memorial Center in Mumbai, India and Eddy Pasquier, Ph.D., a researcher at the University of Aix-Marseille.
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