Can This Arthritis Drug Start New Life as Cancer Therapy?

Article excerpt

The remarkable transformation of celecoxib (Celebrex, Pharmacia) from an arthritis drug to a potential blockbuster cancer drug was the focus of a special media briefing recently in New York City. The briefing was sponsored by Pharmacia.

The speakers, scientists from New York Presbyterian Hospital-Weill Cornell Medical Center, suggested how the agent might one day be used to treat and prevent cancer. We have a paradigm shift," said Andrew Dannenberg, M.D., director of cancer prevention. "Here is a useful arthritis drug that has moved into the cancer prevention arena and is now being fast-forwarded into cancer treatment. Nothing like this has ever happened before."

He compared the potential impact of Celebrex with that of Herceptin (trastuzumab, Genentech) and Gleevec (imatinib mesylate, Novartis), all "wonderful examples of targeted therapy, he said.

The Food & Drug Administration approved celecoxib, a COX-2 inhibitor, in 1999 to reduce the size and number of precancerous colorectal polyps in patients at risk for familial adenomatous polyposis. That approval, said Dannenberg, opened the door to much broader research using the agent for different cancers and precancerous conditions. Here are some recent findings:

*While the COX-2 enzyme plays a role in arthritis inflammation and pain, it also is overexpressed in precancerous lesions and in most cancers. It never appears in normal tissue.

*COX-2 probably promotes cancer development by enhancing angiogenesis, and, at the same time, inhibiting apoptosis.

*In numerous animal studies, inhibiting COX-2 in the body has improved the anticancer effects of chemotherapy and radiation.

*Patients taking Celebrex and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for rheumatoid arthritis had a lower incidence of colon cancer. …

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