Health Canada approves first human trial for DCA
CTV.ca News Staff
Published Thursday, September 27, 2007 10:51AM EDT
Health Canada has approved the first human trial of an experimental cancer drug called dichloroacetate, or DCA, in people with an advanced form of an aggressive brain cancer.
CTV News was among the first to report back in January of the "astounding" findings of University of Alberta's Dr. Evangelos Michelakis. His study showed DCA significantly shrunk lung, breast and brain tumours in both rats and in human tissue experiments.
Now, Health Canada is giving the green light to the researchers to allow them to test the drug in humans. Michelakis says it typically takes about three years for positive results in rats to translate into human trials.
"For us to have completed it in eight months is remarkable," he said Wednesday.
Researchers hope to try the drug on as many as 50 people with glioblastomas over the next 18 months.
Glioblastomas are highly aggressive and patients have an average survival rate of one year with conventional therapy.
Michelakis' team had trouble finding funding for human trials. That's because DCA is cheap and already widely available, so it can't be patented. Pharmaceutical companies have not been interested in funding further research on DCA since the treatment won't make them a profit.
So these human trials will be funded entirely by grants and donations. The team has already raised $800,000, enough to fund the first trial. They hope to continue fundraising to reach their goal of $1.5 million.
DCA appears to be effective in cancer because it repairs the damage that cancer cells cause to mitochondria, the units that convert food into energy. What's more, the drug primarily targets cancer cells without affecting normal ones.
That means it produces none of the severe side-effects of conventional cancer therapies, such as chemotherapy and radiation.
For years, DCA has been used to treat children with inborn errors of metabolism due to mitochondrial diseases. Until recently, researchers believed damage to mitochondria in cancer cells was permanent. But Michelakis questioned this theory and began testing DCA as a way to "revive" cancer-affected mitochondria.
He told CTV News earlier this year that one of the most exciting things about the compound is that it might be able to treat many different forms of cancer because they all suppress mitochondrial function.
Researchers also say DCA may prove to be effective because it is a small compound, thus easily absorbed in the body. After oral intake, it can reach areas in the body that other drugs cannot, making it ideal to treat cancer of the brain, for example.
Michelakis acknowledges that many cancer therapies that have seemed promising in animals have not proven effective in humans. But he said he's encouraged that so many people seem interested in researching the drug, regardless of whether it will be profitable.
Michelakis says his team is recruiting subjects for their study from the Edmonton area to start, but aren't ruling out allowing people from other provinces to take part, as long as the funding can be found. The first subjects could begin within a few weeks.
While it will take nearly six months to see whether the therapy lengthens the life of those taking it, the researchers say it'll only take six weeks to determine whether it's working.