Generic diabetes drug may fight cancer

A diabetes drug released in 1995 shows promise of possibly being a cancer-fighting treatment for those in need.

Metformin, which has been on the market for over 7 years, was approved by the FDA to help those with diabetes control their sugar intake. Since its introduction, it has become one of the most widespread drugs used for this purpose. The reason for this is the patent for metformin expired in 2002. This made the drug much cheaper, lowering the cost to a few pennies per pill as generic versions began hitting the market.

Another possible cancer fighting drug. Graphic by Ashley Kincaid.

The initial discovery of the potential cancer-fighting nature of the drug was announced years after its release, when two separate studies announced that patients who were receiving it to treat their diabetes were less likely to develop cancer and less likely to die from it.

This isn’t all that surprising since some forms of cancer have been linked to high insulin levels. Metformin works by targeting insulin and lowering the levels of it found in the blood stream. Breast, colon and prostate cancers have been linked to high insulin levels.

In 2006, researchers began working with breast cancer and metformin. What their research found was that metformin increased the activity of an enzyme that works to suppress tumors. This suggests the drug has the ability to work against cancer cells directly.

While these findings sparked a great deal of excitement in the cancer research field, it was not reflected by the pharmaceutical companies. This is clear on their lack of funding in research looking into the overall effects that metformin has on cancer. The majority of research is run by non-profit organizations who have stepped in to fill the funding gap left by pharmaceutical companies.

This research could provide a great deal of hope for those looking for a cheap and affordable means to treat and prevent cancer. It is not often that a cancer-fighting drug can be found in a cheap generic, as most of the drugs associated with fighting cancer cost major money per pill. This means a cheap generic provides little to no profit for large companies looking to make big money on the business of cancer.

While this research sounds promising, much like what we recently reported about aspirin and its potential cancer-fighting properties, it is another one of those things that may be a ways down the road before any real progress is seen with the research. The low amount of funding makes it hard for willing researchers to conduct the studies needed to understand the effects of metformin to get it approved as a cancer-fighting agent. It will be interesting to see where this widely non-profit research ends up.