'Pan Pantziarka is a London-based computer scientist for the Anticancer Fund in Belgium, and joint coordinator of the Repurposing Drugs in Oncology (ReDo) project. He is chairman of the George Pantziarka TP53 Trust.' Linda Geddes interviews him for New Scientist (free registration may be required) : newscientist.com/article/mg...
Some excerpts of article I help repurpose everyday drugs like aspirin to fight cancer.
Specialist drugs are getting outwitted by cancer. Pan Pantziarka says a solution may be right under our noses
What are the main challenges you face getting repurposed drugs approved to treat cancer?
The patents have expired on the majority of the drugs, so any drug company that invests in a clinical trial is not guaranteed to recoup that money because some other manufacturer could swoop in and sell the same drug at a lower price. Also, if the trial is successful, getting the drug licensed costs money.
Secondly, very few of these drugs are going to be effective on their own: we are looking at using them in combination with standard therapies or other repurposed drugs. In that situation multiple companies are involved, which raises issues around cooperation.
If you are doing a trial without a pharmaceutical company, there are logistical issues: you have to buy the drugs yourself and even cheap drugs aren’t that cheap. You also have to package up the placebo and the drug – so you have highly paid consultants shoving aspirin into unmarked containers.
What solutions are you coming up with?
We supported a UK crowdfunding project to repurpose a malaria drug called artesunate as a colorectal cancer drug. The response was great and we exceeded the target of £50,000. But it’s not a sustainable model because it takes a huge amount of work, and while the public wants to be involved, compassion fatigue will kick in as the number of appeals grows. That’s particularly true for rare cancers, as there’s not a huge constituency of patients we can mobilise. So we have to look at other options.
Some might accuse you of encouraging cancer patients to turn away from conventional therapies that could save their lives.
All cancer patients and their families have the right to seek alternative opinions. But I work for a foundation called the Anticancer Fund, which funds some research into repurposed drugs, and we spend a lot of time exposing fake cancer cures. We don’t recommend that people stop their current treatment; for any faults it may have, it’s better than no treatment. Instead we supply information for people to take to their oncologist and discuss with them. We don’t encourage people to self-medicate, although we know some people do. When it’s someone’s life at stake, people do extraordinary things – and for good reason.
Photo: Bee visiting a Geraldon Wax flower.