Repurposed malaria drug effective with certain brain tumours

Repurposed malaria drug effective with certain brain tumours


Brain cancer and melanoma anti-BRAF benefits

Scientists at the University of Colorado’s Anshutz Medical Campus have shown that an anti-malaria drug, chloroquinone, can have a significant effect in increasing survival times in people with certain types of GBM brain cancer.

Many cancers, and particularly many brain tumours, depend on autophagy to survive, and use it to defeat drugs. Autophagy is a natural process of cells where they collect anything that might be harmful to the cell and process it to protect the cell. So too with cancer cells attacked by drugs.

Dr. Jean Mulcahy-Levy at UC Cancer Center was looking at brain tumours as a whole and his initial work was disappointing until he concluded that different sub-sets of brain cancer had different responses to drugs. In particular, cancers with a BRAF mutation were particular strong on autophagy. One version BRAFV600E, even stronger especially in brain cancers.

BRAF is a gene which codes a particular protein that causes cancers to grow. Drugs such as Vemurafenib (Zelboraf) and Dabrafenib (Tafinlar) are kinase inhibitors developed originally for melanoma, where they reduce tumour size for a while.

At Anshutz, the drug Vermurafenib was being tested on paediatric brain tumours with the BRAF protein. After a while, as usual, it lost its potency because of autophagy.  The cancer cells defended themselves.

But the anti-malarial drug, chloroquinone, is known to block autophagy and so the researchers added that into the mix and immediately the BRAF inhibiting drug started working again. By the end of 2016 a number of patients had been treated with the repurposed drug and all responded.

Go to: Integrative brain cancer treatments increase survival times



1. Mulcahy Levy JM, Zahedi S, Griesinger AM, et al. Autophagy inhibition overcomes multiple mechanisms of resistance to BRAF inhibition in brain tumors. Elife. 2017 Jan 17;6. doi: 10.7554/eLife.19671


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