Adding another reason to call aspirin a ‘wonder drug,’ a recent study in the United Kingdom suggests that the common aspirin may increase the effectiveness of other drugs that fight the growth of tumors.
The study, conducted by the Francis Crick Institute and funded by Cancer Research UK, and reported in Science Daily has suggested that the formation of prostaglandin E2 (PGE2) can be inhibited by the addition of aspirin to the drug regimen used in immunotherapy treatments. Aspirin is a COX inhibitor, a group of medicines that don’t allow or slow the formation of PGE2.
PGE2 is created by cancerous cells to trick the immune system into ignoring them, allowing them to grow and flourish with no natural attacks by the body. The author of the study, Professor Caetano Reis e Sousa, senior group leader at the Francis Crick Institute said:
We’ve added to the growing evidence that some cancers produce PGE2 as a way of escaping the immune system. If you can take away cancer cells’ ability to make PGE2 you effectively lift this protective barrier and unleash the full power of the immune system. Giving patients COX inhibitors like aspirin at the same time as immunotherapy could potentially make a huge difference to the benefit they get from treatment.
The study, conducted on mice, will lead to further studies and, eventually, to human testing. Sousa is already looking at advancing the study, telling Reuters:
What we would like to do next is set up a clinical trial. We will need to persuade a company to sponsor that and we have had some preliminary conversations.
If the further studies are successful, aspirin might be the key to making immunotherapy work. Professor Peter Johnson of Cancer Research UK, believes that if aspirin tells the body to use its natural immunities to attack cancer cells, this research may be the breakthrough that immunotherapy needs to become a viable cancer therapy.
This research was carried out in mice so there is still some way to go before we will see patients being given COX inhibitors as part of their treatment. But it’s an exciting finding that could offer a simple way to dramatically improve the response to treatment in a range of cancer.