PHILADELPHIA — A drug originally developed to eradicate parasitic infections, such as roundworms and hookworms, is also a promising treatment for pancreatic cancer. The drug, called mebendazole (MBZ), starves cancer cells of their main energy source and causes them to collapse from the inside. It was shown to shatter tumors in preclinical models of pancreatic cancer, and to improve the results of other treatments. It also appears to help block autophagy, an essential process in normal cells that cancers use as a survival mechanism.

Pancreatic cancer is one of the most lethal cancers and is notoriously resistant to chemotherapy and other treatments. It is believed that the cancer cells send signals to increase the number of blood vessels in the tumor to supply them with fuel, which leads to chemoresistance. The cancers also build a thick physical barrier around themselves that hides them from the body’s immune system.

Immunotherapy aims to help the immune system fight the cancer by activating certain T cells and blocking proteins that prevent T cells from attacking cancerous ones. However, many cancer patients with pancreatic cancer experience resistance to immunotherapy.

In an effort to find more effective treatment options, MIT researchers are combining fenbendazole with two other drugs being developed by pharmaceutical companies. They hope to use the triple combination to improve immunotherapy’s effectiveness against pancreatic cancer and other cancers that resist standard therapies. The research was supported by the Lustgarten Foundation for Pancreatic Cancer Research and the Abramson Cancer Center at Penn Medicine. fenbendazole for pancreatic cancer

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