Altered forms of ecstasy (MDMA) could soon be used to treat blood cancers – leukaemia, lymphoma and myeloma.
Modified versions of the class A amphetamine have been found to be 100 times more effective at destroying cancerous cells.
Dr David Grant, Scientific Director of Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research, a UK charity that helped fund the study of the drug, said: “The prospect of being able to target blood cancer with a drug derived from ecstasy is a genuinely exciting proposition.”
“Many types of lymphoma remain hard to treat and non-toxic drugs which are both effective and have few side effects are desperately needed”.
The ‘club drug’ was already known to be effective against some white blood cell cancers, but the large dose required to treat a tumour would have killed the patient.
Researchers from the University of Birmingham and the University of Western Australia have spent the last six years developing the treatment. The aim was to try to separate and isolate the drug’s cancer-busting properties so that patients only received the beneficial ingredients.
Dr Grant said that further research is required but the results so far are “a significant step forward in developing a potential new cancer drug”.
Professor John Gordon, from the University of Birmingham, commented: “While we do not wish to give people false hope, the results of this research hold the potential for improvements in treatments in years to come.”
MDMA can reduce anxiety and induce euphoria and a sense of intimacy with others. In most countries, the possession, manufacture and sale of ecstasy is illegal.
Scientists plan to progress to pre-clinical trials soon, and the findings of this current study are published in the journal Investigational New Drugs.