A common and relatively inexpensive drug given to arthritis patients could also help to treat patients with blood cancers, scientists at the University of Sheffield have discovered.

Myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPN) are most often diagnosed in people in their 50s and 60s. Current treatment is limited to aspirin, removal of excess blood and mild chemotherapy.

Recently, the compound Ruxolitinib has been developed and shown to provide relief. With a cost of over £40,000 per year per patient, however, it has not been approved by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence.

3,300 patients every year in the UK are diagnosed with myeloproliferative neoplasms. Among it’s symptoms is overproduction of blood cells, night sweats, itching and tiredness.

The arthritis medication Methotrexate (MTX) can work in the same way as Ruxolitinib, Dr Martin Zeidler from the University of Sheffield’s Department of Biomedical Science, together with colleagues from the Department of Haematology at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital, found.

Zeidler said:

“Given that a year’s course of low-dose MTX costs around £30, the potential to repurpose MTX could provide thousands of patients with a much needed treatment option and also generate substantial savings for health care systems.

Because MTX is a World Health Organisation ‘Essential Medicine’, this also means that this well understood drug could be used throughout the developing world.”

Methotrexateis most often used at low doses for treating inflammatory diseases including rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease and psoriasis, and has few side effects. It is also used in some cancers at much higher doses where the side effects are substantial and similar to other chemotherapy agents.

Dr Zeidler is now looking to undertake clinical trials to examine the feasibility of repurposing low-dose MTX for the treatment of MPNs.

Illustration: Annie Cavanagh, Wellcome Images, Creative Commons by-nc-nd 4.0

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