News Feature | August 26, 2014

Could Breast Cancer Drugs Treat Brain Tumors?

By Suzanne Hodsden

Researchers at the University of Cincinnati (UC) are hoping for success in using aromatase inhibitors, such as letrazole (U.S. Brand name Femara), in the treatment of malignant primary brain tumors.

Letrazole is taken orally for the treatment of breast cancer in post-menopausal women and works by decreasing the amounts of estrogen, a hormone which has been found to increase the growth of some breast cancers. Mayo Clinic’s description of letrazole confirms the compound’s outstanding safety record and the existence of other off-label uses.

Could one of those off-label uses be malignant brain tumors? Pankaj Desai, professor and research leader at UC, thinks it could be. He says, “We have an early discovery with the tremendous potential to cure.”  He continues to report that early studies have shown the compound to be “strikingly effective on brain tumors.”

This research started with a PhD dissertation written by Nimita Dave, who continues to work with Desai in Cincinnati.

Dave’s UC study, conducted on rats with implanted gliomas, determined that, “Letrazole’s permeability across the blood brain barrier is high, and the exposure to the brain is dose dependent. Furthermore, the brain tumoral letrozole levels are markedly higher than those in the tumor-free regions, which underscore potential selectivity of its activity against tumor studies.”

UC has already filed a patent and awarded researchers $40,000 in hopes of expediting the research to clinical trial. Dave and Desai are already working with Cincinnati neuro-oncologists Lionel Chow, John Morris, and Richard Curry.

Since the trials would be repurposing an existing medication, Desai believes these trials may begin as early as 2015 and could be on the market in 2-3 years.

If effective, this research could drastically change the prognosis for patients who develop primary brain tumors, such as gliomas. According to Desai, “There is a desperate need for a breakthrough.”