The Italian daily La Repubblica reports about some new research that could revolutionize cancer therapies. We believe this news to be relevant outside of the national (Italian) context as well. Here is a link to the original Italian article, and a summary of the Italian research mentioned in the report.
Could bicarbonate, antiacid medicines replace chemotherapy drugs?
Proton pump inhibitors, generally used to treat stomach ulcers, could perhaps replace chemotherapy drugs. This is the direction of new research several Italian scientists are pursuing. Those products could be effective without damaging side effects and at a cost that is much lower than conventional cancer meds. The research was illustrated by scientists of the Institute of Health at the first symposium of the International Society for Proton Dynamics in Cancer (ISPDC).
This new therapy is based on a different approach - starting out from the consideration that all tumors are acid. "Acidity is a mechanism used by cancers to isolate themselves from everything else, including pharmaceutical drugs", explains Stefano Fais, president of the ISPDC and head of the pharmaceutical department of the Institute of Health. "But tumor cells, in order to defend themselves in a highly acidic environment, are relying heavily on up-regulated protein pumps moving those H+ protons. If those pumps are blocked, the cancer cells remain defenseless in the acid medium they created, and they eventually die.
Therefore, using those antiacids, even generic protein pump inhibitors generally used against gastric ulcers, cancer could be cured. "These drugs do not have side effects like those used in chemotherapy", explains Fais, "and they are much lower cost. Consider that the drugs used in target therapy, which are toxic and provoke patient resistance, cost 50 to 60 thousand Euro per patient every year. With this therapy instead, the cost would be 600 Euro using generic drugs or 1200 Euro for those still covered by patents. But pharmaceutical manufacturers aren't interested in this kind of approach today." Resistance notwithstanding, the Institute of Health succeeded to get the first two trials underway in Italy. One trial of 30 patients with melanoma was run by the Milan Cancer Institute and the University of Siena, another trial involving 80 patients with bone cancer was run by Bologna University.
"The results are very encouraging", continues Fais, "because these drugs, used together with chemotherapy, have improved patient response to therapy, even in cases where previously drugs were no longer working, in cases of metastases and in cases where cancer had re-appeared. But those data have to be confirmed with additional studies on more patients, and for that we need the support of pharmaceutical manufacturers."
The same kind of approach has also been used at the Fudan University of Shanghai for breast cancer, while the Tampa Florida Cancer Center is experimenting with oral doses of bicarbonate. In Tokyo instead, Edobashi University is studying an older molecule, acridine orange, which gets attracted to acidic organules of the cell and which, after a luminous X-ray stimulous turns into a compound that is highly toxic for tumor cells. "But the real change", says Fais in closing, "will come when we get the ok for a clinical study in which we will use only protein pump inhibitors, without the chemotherapy drugs. This way we will be able to show their efficacy and the possibility to use them as an alternative to chemotherapy."