Friday, December 19, 2008

Cough Medicine Could Treat Prostate Cancer

A new study published today in the December issue of the European medical journal Anticancer Research demonstrates that an ingredient used in a common cough suppressant may be useful in treating advanced prostate cancer. Researchers found that a natural ingredient, noscapine (used in cough medication for nearly 50 years) reduced tumor growth in mice by 60% and limited the spread of tumors by 65% without causing harmful side effects.

This study is the first to demonstrate noscapine's effectiveness in treating prostate cancer. The laboratory study was a joint effort by Dr. Israel Barken of the Prostate Cancer Research and Educational Foundation, Moshe Rogosnitzky of MedInsight Research Institute, and Dr. Jack Geller of The University of California San Diego. This ingredient, noscapine, had previously been studied as a treatment for breast, ovarian, colon, lung and brain cancer and for various lymphomas, chronic lymphocytic leukemia and melanoma.

Noscapine is a naturally-occurring substance, a non-addictive derivative of opium. That's good and bad -- good because there are many people who believe that natural products are received by the body with less side effects than synthetic drugs. It is bad for drug companies, natural substances like noscapine cannot be patented. The potential for clinical trials is also limited, because there are few companies who can risk that kind of investment if they don't have a proprietary compound to later market.

In the rush to find some way to profit via this ingredient, a synthetic derivative of noscapine has been patented -- but has not yet reached the clinical testing phase. (Yes, that means that we'll soon find a product making its way to the clinic which foresakes the advantages of the natural product and gives us TV commercials and coupons for a chemical version of the same.)

Since noscapine is approved for use in many countries as a cough suppressant, it is available to doctors to prescribe for other uses as well. This common practice is known as the "off-label" prescription. Noscapine is increasingly being used off-label to treat a variety of cancers. Dr. Barken used noscapine to treat a handful of prostate cancer patients before retiring from clinical practice. Encouraged by the success of these treatments, his foundation then funded the laboratory study being reported in this study.

Hormone therapy and chemotherapy, along with radiation and surgery, are currently used to slow the progression of advanced prostate cancer. Side effects resulting from these treatments include impotence, incontinence, fatigue, anemia, brittle bones, hair loss, reduced appetite, nausea and diarrhea.

In contrast, there were no toxic side effects observed in studies of noscapine.



Anonymous said...

Your article/blog showed up on my Google Alerts for Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia. Apparently the research on noscapine for CLL and lymphoma was just canceled this week. Do you have any idea why this happened?

Dave Jensen said...

No, I have no idea why noscapine research might not be moving forward for that disease. My guess is that because there is no "champion" for the compound, when the results are marginal or "iffy" in any way, the funding dries up. A pharmaceutical product, on the other hand, has the support of the pharma company and flies through trials much faster.