“In general, cervical cancer is a very treatable disease and a curable disease,” he said. “Seventy percent is good, but there’s obviously room for improvement.”
Triapine is believed to work by making the tumor cells more sensitive to radiation therapy, according to a summary of the study from the U.S. National Institutes of Health.
“The drug inhibits a specific enzyme in cervical cancer cells which is responsible for creating the building blocks of DNA,” Kunos said. “It blocks the production of those building blocks. When cancer cells are injured by radiation therapy and chemotherapy, the cells don’t have the ability to create new building blocks to repair that damage so they die off.”
The drug initially was designed as a stand-alone treatment, Kunos said. However, “as a cancer therapy by itself, it has not proven to be effective.”
Participants who get the experimental treatment are randomly selected; they receive Triapine through an IV three times a week along with their radiation therapy.
All participants receive radiation therapy and a chemotherapy called cisplatin _ the standard treatments for cervical cancer.
Side effects appear to be rare with Triapine, Kunos said. At much higher levels, the drug can cause shortness of breath and a slight blueness of the skin in patients.
Work is underway to develop an oral version of Triapine, which would be particularly beneficial in other parts of the world where advanced cases of cervical cancer are more common, Kunos said. The drug also potentially could be used to treat head and neck cancers in the future.
Cervical cancer is the second most common cancer in females worldwide, with an estimated 500,000 new cases annually. About 12,000 new cases are diagnosed annually in the United States, where cervical cancer screenings have helped greatly improve survival.