Novartis MS drug could help beat bowel cancer

Novartis' ($NVS) multiple sclerosis drug Gilenya (fingolimod) could treat or even prevent colitis-associated cancer, if preclinical findings from U.S. researchers can be confirmed in later studies.

A team from the Virginia Commonwealth University Massey Cancer Center has found a vicious cycle involving an enzyme called sphingosine kinase 1 (SphK1) and a signaling molecule known as sphingosine-1-phosphate (S1P). This research links molecules for the first time to chronic inflammation and the development of cancer, finding that people with inflammatory bowel disease are at a higher risk of developing bowel cancer.

When researchers gave Gilenya to mice with colitis-associated cancer, it broke the inflammatory cycle and slowed the development and progression of the cancer, even in established disease. The research was published in Cancer Cell.

"Because one of the consequences of inflammatory bowel diseases is an increased risk of developing colorectal cancer, the next step in our research is to examine blood samples from patients with irritable bowel syndrome and colitis-associated cancer to measure levels of S1P," says Sarah Spiegel, co-leader of the cancer cell signaling program at the Massey Cancer Center. "Colorectal cancer is one of the leading causes of cancer-related deaths, and we're hopeful that this research will lead to more effective treatments."

Because Gilenya has already been approved for other uses, this could speed up its transfer into clinical trials for this new indication. The researchers hope to study the drug in patients in combination with other existing therapies for colitis-associated cancer.

- read the press release
- see the paper