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NM researchers are repurposing drugs to fight leukemia

Researchers at the University of New Mexico Comprehensive Cancer Center have found potential ways to repurpose drugs approved for other illnesses to fight leukemia.

Pharmaceutical companies usually spend years and millions of dollars finding new drugs for treating cancer, so the change to use something that already has Food and Drug Administration approval could save costs and time, said Alexandre Chigaev, a research associate professor at the Center for Molecular Discovery at UNM.

Chigaev is also a member of the UNM Comprehensive Cancer Center in the Cancer Therapeutics Research Group.

“I believe in this repurposing because it is the fastest way to help people,” Chigaev said.

He and his team were researching the behavior of normal cells, which are naturally programmed to die through a process called apoptosis, versus leukemia cells, which somehow evade this natural process and multiply. They found a way to use the anti-malarial drug artemsunate and the anti-fungal drug clioquinol to prevent the leukemia cells from evading the programmed death process.

They are now conducting tests on mice in preparation for performing human clinical trials, Chigaev said. The testing could still take some years, he said.