Potentially life-saving research has found that a drug used to treat inflamed joints may also stop the growth of the deadliest skin cancer.

Few would associate rheumatoid arthritis with skin cancer. But, potentially life-saving research has found that a drug used to treat inflamed joints may also stop the growth of the deadliest skin cancer tumours.

Tests showed that the drug, leflunomide, greatly reduced tumour growth in mice with human-like melanoma.

The effect was even more powerful when leflunomide was combined with an experimental melanoma drug called PLX4720. Working together, the two compounds virtually halted cancer growth.

Because leflunomide is licensed to treat a human disease and known to be safe, the trial process should be faster than usual. The scientists say a new treatment for melanoma based on the drug could be available within five years.

Dr Grant Wheeler, from the University of East Anglia’s School of Biological Sciences, who co-led the joint British-US research, said: “This is a really exciting discovery – making use of an existing drug specifically to target melanoma.”

If caught early, surgery can be used to remove melanoma tumours, but the prospects for patients with spreading disease are not good. Leflunomide was first identified as a potential skin cancer therapy after the University of East Anglia team observed its effect on the development of pigment cells in tadpoles.

Working with US colleagues from the Children’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, the researchers went on to show how the drug inhibited skin tumours in mice. The stage is now set for clinical trials to investigate the effect of leflunomide on melanoma patients. – Daily Mail