Many people take statin drugs to control their cholesterol. Now researchers at Johns Hopkins have found evidence that statin drugs may also help kill cancer cells (PNAS, Feb. 25, 2020).
Statin Drugs Against Cancer:
Epidemiological studies have long suggested that people taking statins are less prone to cancer. Researchers report benefit in conditions as varied as Barrett’s esophagus, multiple myeloma and prostate cancer (Scientific Reports, March 17, 2020; American Journal of Hematology, March 6, 2020; Cancer Medicine, Feb. 8, 2020).
The new research reviewed the effects of 2,500 medicines on cancer cells with a mutation in a gene called PTEN. This gene helps the cells make an enzyme that keeps cells from growing too rapidly. The mutation interferes with the enzyme’s ability to regulate growth, and cancer cells start to multiply without any brakes.
Figuring Out How Statins Help:
Statin drugs in general and pitavastatin (Livalo) in particular killed the cancer cells that had a PTEN mutation. At the same time, they did not kill many healthy cells. Pitavastatin blocks the manufacture of a compound that connects cell membranes to cell proteins. This natural agent is called GGPP (for geranylgeranyl diphosphate). Blocking GGPP sets the cancer cells up to starve to death. Without it, they can’t send out extensions of their cell membranes that they normally use to engulf nutrients. Consequently, they can’t absorb the amino acids and proteins necessary for their survival. As a result, they die.