Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute find cancer drug could slow cardiovascular disease in diabetics
A drug developed for cancer treatment is being repurposed in the hope it could help stop diabetes patients from suffering a heart attack or stroke.
The drug, being designed to treat solid and blood cancers, is being trialled in the fight against atherosclerosis, a condition caused by the build-up of fatty plaques on artery walls.
The condition is an early-stage form of cardiovascular disease (CVD), which is common in diabetes patients and can lead to more serious heart complications, including heart attack.
But preclinical studies by scientists at the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute in Melbourne have now shown the cancer drug could also be used to slow the onset of the disease.
Professor Andrew Murphy, who is leading the research, said this was because it helped kill off cell fragments known as platelets, known to drive atherosclerosis. The small clotting cells are prevalent in higher numbers in people with diabetes but, when treated with the drug, animal studies showed their platelet count returned to near “normal” levels.
“What we showed was that when you have mice or people who are diabetic, they get heart disease earlier,” said Prof Murphy, head of the Baker’s Haematopoiesis and Leukocyte Biology Lab.
“By lowering the platelet numbers, it slowed the acceleration of the disease … [and] decreased atherosclerosis in mice with diabetes to similar levels of animals without diabetes.”
This resulted in them being “protected from heart disease”, he said.
The medication, AVT737, is a “relative” of revolutionary cancer drug Venetoclax — but was used on mice in much smaller doses.
Prof Murphy said the possibilities the drug and others like it held were promising, despite being in their early stages.
“I think for those that have diabetes and are at a high risk of … a heart attack, this might delay or slow that down when used in conjunction with other therapies … and help reverse the disease,” he said. “In those that have already had a heart attack it’s likely to be beneficial in preventing a second one.”
More than 1.5 million Australians suffer from diabetes, putting them at twice the risk of developing or dying from CVD. Prof Murphy said anything that could be used to help reduce such numbers was worth investigating.
He said further tests in “high-risk models” — including animals who had suffered a heart attack — were still needed, before hopefully progressing to human clinical trials.
But the fact such medications were already in use and safe for cancer patients meant trials in heart patients could happen sooner than later. The study, published this week in the journal Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosi and Vascular Biology, was a collaboration with Monash University and Ohio State University.