Cancers metabolise a large amount of oxygen in order to create the energy needed to divide, grow and spread rapidly. This results in oxygen-starved, or ‘hypoxic’, environments around tumour cells.
This proves problematic as hypoxic tumours behave more aggressively and are more resistant to most treatments, especially radiotherapy. Radiotherapy relies on oxygen to attack cancer cells, and previous studies have shown that three-times higher doses of radiation are needed to destroy tumours in hypoxic environments, compared to those in oxygen rich environments.
Researchers from the University of Oxford and Oxford University Hospitals Trust have investigated the potential for the commonly used anti-malarial and pneumonia drug Atovaquone to improve lung tumour receptiveness to cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
The ATOM study, published today in Clinical Cancer Research, administered Atovaquone to patients with non-small cell lung cancer before the surgical removal of their tumours. Using state-of-the-art scans to measure tumour hypoxia, this study found that tumours had 55% less hypoxic volumes than those who didn’t receive the drug.