Five-cent diabetes pill from 1958 may be new cancer drug

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The next new treatment for breast, colon and prostate cancers, among others, may be a diabetes drug first approved in 1958.

Metformin, the most commonly used medicine to lower blood-sugar, is the subject of about 50 cancer studies globally, according to U.S. government clinical trial information compiled by Bloomberg.

The research began after scientists found metformin prevented tumors in mice and that diabetics were less likely to develop a malignancy if they were taking the 5 cents-a-day pill than other diabetes medications.

The medicine is dispensed about 120 million times annually, according to a 2010 report in the journal Molecular Cancer Therapeutics.

If the latest trials on breast and other tumors are successful, the drug could become a cheap weapon in the fight against a myriad of diseases including pancreatic and ovarian cancers.

All told, cancer kills one in eight people and is the second-leading cause of death in most developed countries.

“The hope is that if it does show safety and efficacy, it would be available in a cost-effective way,” said Chandini Portteus, vice president of research, evaluation and scientific programs at Susan G. Komen for the Cure, a Dallas-based breast cancer advocacy group.

“It would be wonderful for patients if we had something that we knew worked and was safe and low-cost.”

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