Generous members of the public have raised £50,000 for a crowd funding project so researchers at St George’s, University of London, and St George’s Hospital, can investigate whether the malaria drug can have a positive effect on colorectal cancer.
The research will consider whether the drug artesunate can help cancer patients by reducing the multiplication of tumour cells and decreasing the risk of cancer spreading or recurring after surgery.
If it does the drug could be used to provide a cheaper adjunct to current expensive chemotherapy.
A small charity, Bowel Disease UK, started by Gary Douch, a patient of Professor Kumar's, donated £200,000 to fund the initial study.
The team needed a further £50,000 to cover trial costs for sponsorship and to purchase the drug. They therefore formed a partnership with FutSci, an organisation that hopes to support crowdfunding for research, innovation and technology in the life sciences. The project has now exceeded its £50,000 in pledges of support so the phase II trial can go ahead.
Professor Sanjeev Krishna, an infectious disease expert at St George’s, who jointly-led the study with Professor Devinder Kumar, said: “When we started crowdfunding, it was very much an experiment in my mind. Now it has evolved so positively, the benefits of interacting with interested people who are excited by our ideas becomes obvious. We can also make people aware of bigger questions around repurposing drugs for other diseases, so their value for patients can be identified as soon as possible."
Professor Devinder Kumar, who has been a colorectal cancer surgeon for three decades, added: “It’s been a great example of real team work showing a simple way to bring a great idea to fruition.
“Repurposing Artesunate could change the way bowel cancer is treated in the future and make a significant difference to the lives of millions of sufferers of this disease.”
Gary Douch, of the bowel research charity Bowel Disease UK, said: “We are delighted to be involved in such a ground breaking project.
“BDUK was specifically setup to fund research and now we have the opportunity to be part of something quite unique and life changing."
Pan Pantziarka, campaigner and researcher from the Anti Cancer Fund who has been worked closely with the team to promote the crowdfunding campaign, said: "There is a range of repurposed drugs with evidence that they might be effective in cancer. But as in this case the lack of commercial funding is a road block. This trial is a chance to prove that artesunate can stop bowel cancer recurring after surgery, but it could also highlight a funding solution that we can use for other diseases."
Artesunate is derived from the plant Artemisia Annua also known as Sweet Wormwood. The Chinese scientist Tu Youyou whose research in the 1960s led to the development of artesunate from a plant used in Chinese traditional medicine, was recently awarded the Nobel Prize 2015.
More than one million patients are diagnosed with colorectal cancer globally each year. Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in men and the second most common cancer in women and is a leading cause of mortality. In the UK,110 new cases are diagnosed daily, with older patients particularly at risk of death. Current treatments involve complex combinations of surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy.