Medidata Blog

A Leukemia Drug Takes On Head and Neck Cancers

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It’s always interesting to check out what our customers are up to with our platform, and right now Cancer Research UK has a great exploratory trial under way with the experimental drug AMG 319.

Amgen originally developed the drug for leukemia patients, but researchers have seen potential in it for other types of cancer. The company already tested the drug in a successful Phase I trial, so researchers are confident it’s safe to administer to patients.

AMG 319 works by preventing the PI3Kδ molecule in white blood cells from functioning in its normal state. This molecule controls the B and T “defender” cells that form and quickly multiply to fight infections. Normally defender cells help protect us from illnesses, but the cells become a problem when dealing with blood cancer (and patients fighting off too many cancerous white blood cells).

What if AMG 319 could be used to fight other types of cancer? Cancer Research UK researchers are using the drug to target head and neck cancers. The drug class has already been tested in mice with tumors and it responded against the cancer cells. However, as the research organization explains, this novel use of the drug is a “really exciting trial because we’re using this drug in solid tumours for the first time. It also tries a whole new concept of cancer therapy in solid cancers for the first time.”

Cancer Research UK specializes in using patients’ immune systems to fight cancer, and researchers hope AMG 319 may have this capability with head and neck cancers.

According to Dr. Nigel Blackburn, “Treatments that train the immune system to recognise and kill cancer cells are showing huge promise, so we look forward to seeing whether this drug could echo those results.”

Beyond Cancer Research UK’s current work with AMG 319, it’s interesting to see pharma companies and research organizations continuing to make the most of existing compounds and drugs. Similar to Roivant — which buys promising, deprioritized compounds from pharma companies and tries to salvage the compounds with modernized research — Cancer Research UK is approaching an existing drug from a new angle.

What do you think? Is it becoming more common to revitalize or repurpose existing drugs and compounds? Share your thoughts below.

Jacob Angevine