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Could Anti-Malaria Drug Become New Pleural Mesothelioma Treatment?

new pleural mesothelioma treatment

A new report  suggests an anti-malaria drug called quinacrine has potential as a new pleural mesothelioma treatment.

Before chloroquine became more popular, quinacrine was widely used to treat malaria. Now doctors mostly use it for a diarrhea disease caused by a parasite.

But a report published in the International Journal of Molecular Science says quinacrine also has anti-cancer properties. Laboratory tests suggest it has the makings of a powerful new pleural mesothelioma treatment.

The Challenge of Pleural Mesothelioma

Malignant mesothelioma starts on the membranes around internal organs. It can quickly spread to other parts of the body. Pleural mesothelioma grows on the lining around the lungs. It is almost always caused by exposure to asbestos dust. 

Most people with mesothelioma have chemotherapy with Alimta. Alimta received approval for mesothelioma in 2004. Last year, a device called Tumor Treating Fields became the first new pleural mesothelioma treatment in 15 years. 

Unfortunately, only a small percentage of patients respond to these approved therapies. Life expectancy for pleural mesothelioma is often less than a year. A new pleural mesothelioma treatment could change the survival outlook for patients who have few other options. 

Quinacrine as a Cancer Treatment?

Quinacrine is sold under the brand name Atabrine. It is related to chloroquine and mefloquine and has many uses. It used to be the main anti-malaria drug. Now, it is mostly used to treat protozoal infections like giardiasis. It has also been used to treat rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. 

The newly published report is the first to suggest quinacrine as a new pleural mesothelioma treatment. Drug researchers at Penn State, Texas Tech, Keck Graduate Institute in California and St. John’s University in New York conducted the study. 

According to the report, quinacrine showed a “high degree of cytotoxicity” against both lab-grown and patient-derived mesothelioma cell lines. It was effective even at low concentrations. 

Qualities of a Possible New Pleural Mesothelioma Treatment

Several things made researchers think quinacrine has promise as a new pleural mesothelioma treatment. 

When they applied the drug to groups of mesothelioma cells, it kept them from migrating and forming new colonies. This suggests it might help keep tumors from forming. 

Then, the team made a 3D cell culture to mimic a mesothelioma tumor. “QA [quinacrine] was reported to be highly effective in this simulated cellular model,” they write. 

Other qualities of this potential new pleural mesothelioma treatment:

  • Prevented the formation of tumor-feeding blood vessels (angiogenesis)
  • Inhibited autophagy (cleaning out of old cell parts). Autophagy is one way mesothelioma tumors survive and grow.
  • Triggered apoptosis (natural cell death)

“These studies highlight anti-mesothelioma efficacy of QA at low doses, which can be instrumental in developing it as a stand-alone treatment strategy for malignant pleural mesothelioma,” the report concludes.

About 2,500 people face a mesothelioma diagnosis in the US each year. 


Kulkarni, N, et al, “Repurposing Quinacrine for Treatment of Malignant Mesothelioma: In-Vitro Therapeutic and Mechanistic Evaluation”, August 31, 2020, International Journal of Molecular Biology, Epub ahead of print, https://www.mdpi.com/1422-0067/21/17/6306

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