THE designer drug Ecstasy has been developed into a potent medical treatment that could be the key to tackling blood cancers. It may help save thousands of lives each year.
Scientists at the University of Birmingham have discovered that a reworked form of the drug MDMA – commonly known as Ecstasy – has potential as a cancer-killing agent for treating leukaemia, lymphoma and myeloma.
Research published online in the journal Investigational New Drugs reveals significant success in “redesigning the designer drug” which they now hope can be produced in a safe form to treat patients.
Six years ago scientists at the university found that half of the cancers affecting white blood cells responded in the test tube to the growth-suppressing properties of “psychotropic” drugs.
These included weight loss pills, Prozac-type anti-depressants, and amphetamine derivatives such as MDMA.
Professor John Gordon, of the university’s School of Immunology and Infection, said: “This is an exciting next step towards using a modified form of MDMA to help people suffering from blood cancer. While we would not wish to give people false hope, the results of this research hold the potential for improvements in treatments in years to come.”
Dr David Grant, scientific director of the charity Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research, which part-funded the study, said: “The prospect of being able to target blood cancer with a drug derived from Ecstasy is a genuinely exciting proposition.
“Many types of lymphoma remain hard to treat and non-toxic drugs which are both effective and have few side-effects are desperately needed.
“Further work is required but this research is a significant step forward in developing a potential new cancer drug.”
According to the latest statistics almost 12,000 people are diagnosed with blood cancers. They kill nearly 26,000 each year.
Chemotherapy is currently the main course of treatment for blood cancers. But in many cases it will fail because the cancer cells have developed defences against the drugs.
One of the major problems in creating new treatments for blood cancers is that high levels of a key protein called BCL2 protect the cancer cells from being killed.
The new Ecstasy-based treatment can bypass this defence mechanism.