Nanodelivery could revive failed cancer treatment, 'forgotten' drugs

The once-promising wortmannin was a pipeline cancer treatment with high hopes to reach the market. Its fate, however, was a familiar one: High toxicity, poor stability and low solubility torpedoed its progress, and it never established clinical efficacy.

Now, thanks to a team of researchers at the University of North Carolina, wortmannin might get a second chance, using nanotechnology that can work around the perils of traditional drug administration. The group reported its proof-of-principle findings in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, finding that a nanoparticle formulation of the cancer drug is safer and more effective than its initial design.

The nanomethod "decreased toxicity and increased stability, solubility and effectiveness," said Andrew Wang, one of the study's senior authors. "Additionally, nanoparticle wortmannin can improve the efficacy of radiotherapy dramatically and is more effective than the most commonly utilized chemotherapeutics."

And while the team is focused on honing its wortmannin formulation, applying nanoparticle tech to once-hopeless drugs could be revolutionary, Wang said. "There is a large number of these 'forgotten' drugs that can be revived and re-evaluated using nanoparticle drug delivery. These drugs can provide new targets and offer new strategies that previously didn't exist."

Recently, pharma giants Pfizer ($PFE), Eli Lilly ($LLY) and AstraZeneca ($AZN) have dumped their closets of failed treatments onto the National Institutes of Health, which has said it will give them over to researchers around the country in hopes that they can be revived through rethinking and reformulation. If UNC's creativity is any indication, new drug delivery methods could bring hope for these drugs.

- read UNC's release

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