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Brain tumour treatment is set to be revolutionised by a cheap drug

A cheap drug combining three readily available medications will revolutionise brain tumour treatments, research suggests.

The drug – which combines liquid aspirin, triacetin and saccharin – breaks down brain cancers’ defences to make tumours visible to powerful immunotherapy drugs.

Researchers have shown the new drug can cross the ‘blood-brain barrier’ – a hurdle which has so far stopped cancer drugs attacking brain tumours.

Crucially, it can carry other, more powerful medications with it, acting as a ‘Trojan horse’ to sneak immunotherapy drugs into the brain. 

The study – conducted by scientists at the universities of Portsmouth and Liverpool – offers hope for a breakthrough in brain tumour treatment.

More than 16,000 people are diagnosed with a brain tumour in Britain each year, yet campaigners have long warned that patients are left behind because there are few effective treatments.

Study leader Dr Richard Hill of Portsmouth University said: ‘To produce a completely new drug takes many years and is very expensive. 

By focusing our efforts on testing novel formulation techniques, we can move closer to a treatment more quickly than would otherwise be possible.’

The study, published in the Cancer Letters journal, suggests that the new drug, known only by the code name IP1867B, could allow powerful treatments which are effective in other cancers to be used for brain tumours.

Trials in mice showed how two effective lung cancer drugs become hugely effective with IP1867B used alongside them.

These drugs previously failed to treat brain cancer as even if the medicine broke through the blood-brain barrier, tumours immediately evolved to become resistant to them. Researchers are now planning the first human trial of the drug.

The scientists believe part of the reason the new treatment works so well to pave the way for other drugs is that it destroys tumours’ ability to evolve to become resistant. 

It wipes away the ‘prostaglandins’ surrounding brain tumours – key molecules which ‘hide’ cancer cells from other drugs – and attacks two other defence mechanisms used by tumours.

The researchers believe the same approach may work for other cancers, including prostate, breast and bowel cancer.

Katie Sheen, research manager at Brain Tumour Research, which helped fund the study, said: ‘Being able to take existing drugs that have already been approved for use in humans, developing them in novel ways and applying them in the treatment of brain tumours offers much hope for the future.’

The treatment was made possible by a three-man company in Manchester, which combined three drugs to create IP1867B.

The company, Innovate Pharmaceuticals is comprised of brothers Simon and Jan Cohen along with local A&E consultant Dr James Stuart. 

Dr Stuart, who is the medical director of the firm, hailed their innovation as ‘a true breakthrough in cancer treatment’.

Rebecca Long-Bailey, MP for Salford and Eccles, where Innovate is based, said: ‘This is a groundbreaking drug design that could change the face of cancer treatment, making it more effective for patients.

‘It is even more special because this was a project based in Salford and led by local doctors and business people who wanted to put moral purpose and NHS affordability at the heart of new drug innovation and production.’

She added: ‘It is critical that Government looks at this as a case in point for supporting the next stages of innovation through to manufacturing.’

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