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Could Drug “Repurposing” Be the Cure for Mesothelioma?

An exciting new use for an old drug is shining a spotlight on the potential for repurposing previously approved drugs to treat malignant mesothelioma faster and more effectively.

Malignant mesothelioma is the cancer most closely associated with the mineral asbestos. Although it’s incidence is slowly declining in some parts of the world, mesothelioma continues to rise in many poor countries where asbestos regulation is lax or nonexistent. While there are some exciting new therapies on the horizon there is still no cure for mesothelioma.

But some scientists say using existing drugs to treat the asbestos cancer might be the key to curing it sooner rather than later.

Parasite Drug the Latest to Show Promise for Mesothelioma

The latest repurposed drug to show promise in the treatment of malignant pleural mesothelioma is pyrvinium pamoate, a drug developed to treat infections of pinworm parasite.

In a study published in a recent issue of the Journal of Cell Physiology, researchers at the Sbarro Institute for Cancer Research and Molecular Medicine at Temple University call pyrvinium pamoate a “step forward” for mesothelioma treatment.

“Pyrvinium pamoate is able to affect important features of mesothelioma aggressiveness, suggesting that the repurposing of this drug for mesothelioma treatment could represent a new promising therapeutic approach,” says lead investigator Dr. Antonio Giordano.


According to the Sbarro Institute researchers, the pinworm drug effectively impaired both the growth of mesothelioma cells and their ability to migrate to other parts of the body.

Repurposing Could Speed up Mesothelioma Treatment Time

Drug “repurposing” is the use of known drugs for new indications, such as mesothelioma, for which there are few effective treatments and no second-line therapies for patients who relapse.

One of the biggest benefits of repurposing an existing drug like pyrvinium pamoate in mesothelioma treatment is that it bypasses the time and testing needed to bring new drugs to market, meaning the treatments can be available sooner to mesothelioma patients who need them.

In a recent article in the European Respiratory Review, researchers at France’s Aix-Marseille University suggest that such drug repurposing could be “a breath of fresh air” in the treatment of mesothelioma.

“Drug repurposing appears as an attractive strategy for drug development in malignant pleural mesothelioma, since the known pharmacology and safety profile based on previous approvals of repurposed drugs allows for faster time-to-market for patients and lower treatment cost,” writes lead researcher Arnaud Boyer.

Boyer and his team identified 11 classes of existing drugs that have the potential to become new mesothelioma treatments. Of these, most have been evaluated in laboratory tests but only half have moved on to animal testing and only three have been the subject of clinical trials.

Boyer and his colleagues call for more coordinated efforts to test these agents in the treatment of malignant mesothelioma.


“Repurposed Parasite Drug New Weapon Against Mesothelioma”, March 6, 2018, Sbarro Health Research Organization press release

Boyer, A, et al, “Drug repurposing in malignant pleural mesothelioma: a breath of fresh air?”, March 14, 2018, European Respiratory Review

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