Researchers have found that an existing anti-inflammatory drug has the potential to lower lung cancer risk. According to a study published in the journal Lancet, death from cancer was reduced by half in the group of people who received the highest dosage of the drug canakinumab. “The data are exciting because they point to the possibility of slowing the progression of certain cancers,” said Paul Ridker, Director of the Centre for Cardiovascular Disease Prevention at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, US.
More than 10,000 patients were enrolled in the study. They had a history of heart attacks and had high levels of C-reactive protein (hsCRP) – a biomarker of inflammation and a risk marker for lung cancer. But none of the participants had been diagnosed with cancer.
Participants in the trial received 50 mg, 150 mg or 300 mg of canakinumab or a placebo, injected subcutaneously every three months.
They were followed for up to five-and-a-half years.
The researchers observed a marked cut in rates of total cancer deaths, but especially in deaths due to lung cancer, as well as in the incidence of lung cancer among patients who received the drug.
This effect was dose-dependent – for example, lung cancer rates were reduced 26%, 39% and 67%, respectively, for the low, medium and high doses of canakinumab.
Patients who received the highest dose of the drug (300 mg) had approximately half the rate of total cancer deaths and one-quarter the rate of fatal lung cancer compared to those who received the placebo.
Inflammation is one of the body’s first lines of defence against harmful invaders such as bacteria.
Inflammation can also occur in the lungs, for example, when a person smokes, inhales polluted air or is exposed to toxins such as silica and asbestos.
That inflammation is known to increase the risk of lung cancer.
The research team noted that it is unlikely canakinumab directly prevents new lung cancers from developing – instead, they believe it is more probable that the drug helps slow lung cancer progression and invasiveness, consistent with prior studies in animal models.
“However, this is an exploratory study that needs replication,” Ridker said.
The study also found that the drug made by Novartis also reduced the risk of heart attack, stroke and cardiovascular death.