Big Pharma shuns dirt-cheap cancer drug

Patients with Type 2 diabetes taking metformin are less likely to develop some forms of cancer, and that has a lot of folks really excited in drug research. But that feeling doesn't carry over to Big Pharma, which can't see how to make it pay off.

The drug is readily available and, at about 5 cents a dose, dirt cheap. There are now more than 50 studies investigating the links between use of metformin and how it affects cancer, Bloomberg reports. Because the drug is off patent, however, the question is whether it is worth any drug company's investment to determine its potential as a cancer fighter.

"It would be wonderful for patients if we had something that we knew worked and was safe and low cost." Chandini Portteus, tells Bloomberg. She is vice president of research, evaluation and scientific programs at Susan G. Komen for the Cure. The breast cancer advocacy group has invested $10 million in studies of metformin for breast cancer.

Metformin has long been known as an effective therapy for Type 2 diabetes. By inhibiting the hormone insulin-like growth factor-1, metformin can lower blood glucose. IGF-1, though, also has a role in cancer development. A new preclinical study recently demonstrated its potential against lung cancer.

With cancer cases growing worldwide and many drugs now costing tens of thousands of dollars per treatment, there is a lot of need for cheap and effective cancer drugs. But getting funding for research of metformin is difficult.

Pamela Goodwin, an oncologist at Toronto's Mount Sinai Hospital, is leading a breast cancer trial which is getting federal funds from the U.S. and Canada. She tells Bloomberg she could have started work 10 years ago, but one potential funder decided against supporting the trial when it determined the drug would go off patent before trial data would be available.

- read the Bloomberg story

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