College of Pharmacy Study Proposes Novel Uses for Osteoporosis Drugs in Cancer Treatment

Daniel Helfand
Chenglong Li
Chenglong Li

A study from the lab of Chenglong Li, associate professor at The Ohio State University College of Pharmacy, and a researcher at Nationwide Children’s Hospital has revealed two Food and Drug Administration-approved osteoporosis drugs as possible therapies for cancer and inflammation.

The research findings, which were just published last month in the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry, suggest that osteoporosis drugs raloxifene and bazedoxifene have anti-cancer properties. These drugs have been shown to disrupt inflammatory cytokine IL-6 from binding to a main signaling receptor protein GP130, resulting in suppression of the cancer causing protein STAT3 activation in cancer cells and ensuing cancer cell self-killing.

“Our original goal was to find out how STAT3 becomes so active in cancer cells, but we were able to actually identify through computer modeling techniques how the proteins IL-6 and GP130 connect and begin the cancer signaling process,” said Li.

Raloxifene and bazedoxifene are prescription drugs sold under the names Evista and Viviant by Eli Lilly and Pfizer, respectively. The two drugs have been approved by the FDA for use by postmenopausal women in the prevention and treatment of osteoporosis, a bone disease characterized by weak or thin bones.

Raloxifene has been approved for use in the prevention of invasive breast cancer and studies have suggested bazedoxifene as a treatment for breast cancer, but Li and his collaborators think this discovery can be extended to other types of cancer.  

Li’s lab was able to use a database to identify currently approved drugs that contain molecules that can inhibit the IL-6 and GP130 proteins from activating STAT3. After identifying the two osteoporosis drugs, Li’s lab was able to test the drugs and found results that propose the drugs can be repurposed for use in treating several types of cancer.

“Our findings suggest that these two drugs can be repositioned to aid in therapies involving breast, prostate, colon, liver, pancreatic, brain, and a variety of other cancers,” said Li. “My hope is that medical researchers will be able to put together clinical trials to collect more data, and make more informed decisions about these drugs’ potential as anti-cancer therapies.”

Li believes the next step for his research will be to make the anti-cancer components of these drugs more efficacious in fighting cancer cells through chemical modification. The publication Nature Science Business eXchange has contacted Li to publish his findings in order to bring it to the attention of researchers in the pharmaceutical industry.

Since the drugs identified in the database are FDA-approved, Li says that clinical trials of these drugs can begin soon.

“Instead of spending years and potentially billions of dollars, we already have two drugs available that can be repurposed for clinical trials,” said Li. “I hope that these findings can reach the right researchers, so we can determine how effective these drugs can be.”