Credit to Telegraph Lifestyle who reported this September 2015…..

When Dorothy Bradshaw agreed to take part in a clinical trial for a potential bowel cancer drug five years ago she had very low expectations.

After all, this was no expensive cutting-edge therapy from a pharmaceutical giant. It was an antimalarial pill costing just 70p a pop and was based on an ancient Chinese herbal remedy.

Many researchers now believe old-fashioned cheap drugs like this will be the next big breakthrough in cancer treatment. In fact, just yesterday a new study showed that a daily dose of aspirin can double the life expectancy of patients with some cancers.

But Miss Bradshaw certainly did not pin her hopes on the pills she was asked to pop every day for two weeks before surgery to remove her tumour. As she had no side effects whatsoever, she assumed she was in the placebo group and forgot all about it.

“I was too busy trying to concentrate on survival,” said the retired sales assistant who cheerfully rang round her friends and family to say hello when secretly she was saying goodbye.

“We did a lot of laughing during those weeks but it was harder when I was alone with my thoughts. I told my partner Christopher I wanted to go for a long walk to see the autumn colours because I might never see them again.”

Miss Bradshaw’s brother tragically died from bowel cancer at the age of 29.

Bowel cancer, also known as colorectal cancer, kills someone in the UK every half an hour and only six out of 10 people with the disease survive beyond five years.

As she prepared for an operation to remove her colon containing a 3.5cm tumour, Miss Bradshaw agreed to take part in a small clinical trial at St George’s University of London looking at the cancer-fighting potential of the anti-malarial drug artesunate.

Far from having the financial backing of a pharmaceutical multinational or a major charity, the researchers at St George’s were conducting the study in their own time with zero funding. Only 20 patients took part and a Belgian manufacturer provided the pills for free.

The results, however, were striking. After two weeks on the tablets, Miss Bradshaw’s tumour had stopped growing and had not spread.

Three days later, her colon was successfully removed along with the tumour. That was in November 2010 and now as the nights draw in she is looking forward more long walks in the glorious autumn sunshine.

Of the 11 patients in the trial who were on the placebo, six had a recurrence of cancer within three-and-a-half years of whom three died. By contrast, of the nine patients who took artesunate, only one had a recurrence and none died.

With such a small study, researchers did not find significant evidence that the antimalarial could kill actually cancer cells, but in the artesunate group, levels of the protein Ki67 – an indicator how fast cancer cells are multiplying – plummeted by a third. Miss Bradshaw’s Ki67 levels stabilised, indicating that her cancer was no longer growing or spreading and was contained in her colon where it could be surgically removed.

“It’s extraordinary really,” said Miss Bradshaw whose brother Peter tragically died from bowel cancer at the age of 29. “To think that a cheap antimalarial tablet we’ve known about for years, might turn out to be a cancer drug; that’s amazing isn’t it?”

Her consultant at St George’s Hospital agrees.

Bowel cancer kills someone in the UK every half an hour
“I’m extremely excited about this,” said Professor Devinder Kumar, who has been an oncologist for three decades. “We already know this is a safe drug that has been taken by tens of millions of people around the world to treat malaria. It only costs about 70p per tablet compared to the £20 or £30 you might expect to spend on a daily dose of chemotherapy.

“If we can repeat the results of this small study in a larger trial this could really be a ground breaker in the treatment of bowel cancer and one that wouldn’t bankrupt the NHS.”

The researchers at St George’s are now close to embarking on a larger £250,000 Phase II clinical trial involving 140 patients to see if there is more solid evidence that artesunate could be repurposed to fight cancer.

Though they need a mere fraction of the many millions of pounds spent on many cancer drug trials, the funding is still a stumbling block.

“This drug is no longer protected by patent so it can be made and sold very cheaply. It’s simply not in the pharmaceutical industry’s interests to look at a cancer treatment that would cost a dollar a day’, says molecular parasitologist Professor Sanjeev Krishna, who has studied antimalarials for 35 years and is leading the study.

“We could apply for funding from a charity or the Medical Research Council but it’s an extremely time-consuming and involved process which can take years. We want to get moving on something that could save lives.”

The researchers’ solution is to go directly to the public and ask for their help. Last week, they launched a crowd-funding bid for £50,000 to help cover the trial costs. The other £200,000 has already been raised by a tiny charity called Bowel Disease UK which was founded by one of Professor Kumar’s patients as a way of directly funding research at St George’s University.

Researchers are trying to raise £5,000 on a crowdfunding site
Researchers are trying to raise £50,000 on a crowdfunding site
With the NHS creaking under the weight of costly new cancer drugs that typically take at least a decade to come to market, Professor Krishna believes no-frills crowd-funded studies on cheap existing drugs could become the norm, getting results more quickly without compromising standards.

“My view is that the future of much of clinical science funding may become patient-led and this could free us from the pursuit of expensive medicines by ‘big pharma’.”

Artesunate is just one of many well-established generic drugs that could be repurposed for use in oncology. Aspirin is the most high-profile example and a Dutch study published yesterday of 14,000 people with cancers of the gastrointestinal tract found that those who regularly took aspirin were twice as likely to be still alive after four years.

Dr Pan Pantziarka, the Anticancer Fund’s UK spokesman, said the beauty of these older generic drugs is that they are long-established and known to have few side effects. They came to market at a time when scientists didn’t fully understand how they worked but as a happy accident they can attack cancer on several fronts at once, effectively carpet-bombing the disease and giving it no time to adapt its way out of the onslaught, he said.

By contrast, pharmaceutical companies today invest billions in drugs that act more like snipers. “It would be extremely expensive and complicated to develop multi-targeted drugs today, so most modern cancer therapies tend to be aimed at one specific target inside cancer cells,” said Dr Pantziarka. “Very often they have a powerful initial impact but then cancer resistance kicks in and the effect wears off.”

He said it would not surprise him if a simple two-week course of antimalarial pills proved to be a powerful weapon against the UK’s second biggest cancer killer.

“What kills cancer patients are metastases – the spread of the disease to other parts of the body,” he said. “Tackle that and the chances of survival are so much greater.

“Artesunate appears to stop this process from happening if taken before surgery. It’s a very simple intervention but ultimately it means that many lives could be saved.”