The combination of a cholesterol-lowering drug and a contraceptive steroid could be an effective, non-toxic treatment for a range of cancers, says a new research. The researchers found that the drug combination kills cancer cells in a completely new way.

It blocks an enzyme crucial to the production of fatty acids, which cancer cells need to grow and multiply.

“Developing drugs to target the fatty acid building blocks of cancer cells has been a promising area of research in recent years. It is very exciting we have identified these non-toxic drugs already sitting on pharmacy shelves,” said lead researcher Andrew Southam from the University of Birmingham in Britain.

Early stage clinical trials of the drugs in elderly patients with acute myeloid leukaemia (AML), a type of blood cancer, have shown promising results, with survival three months longer on average than standard palliative care. The combination, known as BaP, has also been used alongside chemotherapy to successfully treat children with Burkitt’s lymphoma (BL), the most common childhood cancer in Eastern Africa.

Until now, it was uncertain whether the activity of the drugs against these two very different blood cancers was mediated by a common mechanism or by different effects in each cancer type. The researchers suggest that BaP could be used to treat many other types of cancers including chronic lymphocytic leukaemia, some types of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, as well as prostate, colon and oesophageal cancer.

The team now hopes that the BaP combination will be tested in new clinical trials later this year for patients with an aggressive set of blood disorders known as myelodysplastic syndromes. Drugs already in medical use do not need to be tested again in early stage clinical trials and are also much cheaper than new cancer drugs.

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