A new drug, calmangafodipir, protects against the side effects of cancer treatments while strengthening the effects on the tumor. An international drug evaluation is now beginning with a larger group of patients.

The research on the compound calmangafodipir was based on mangafodipir, a compound that is used as a contrast media in magnetic resonance scans. Then, pharmacologists discovered that calmangafodipir also protected healthy cells in connection with cancer treatments.

“We found that the substance could affect the formation of oxygen radicals, which are a cause of side effects in chemotherapy,” said Professor Rolf G. Andersson of Linköping University in Sweden. For example, the number of white blood cells decreased drastically in almost all the patients, which can open the door to fatal infections.

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The researchers began with cell tests, and then went on to mice infected with cancer cells. The mice were treated with chemotherapy and were administered mangafodipir at the same time. Tumor formation decreased while white blood cells were protected. One problem was that a large portion of the manganese in the substance was released; as a consequence, the positive effect subsided. In addition the free manganese can be poisonous and cause brain damage.

“We remade the substance and replaced a lot of the manganese with calcium. This yielded a more stable complex, which turned out to be even better at protecting cells, thereby increasing the anti-cancer effect,” said Andersson. The effect of mangafodipir has already been confirmed in a smaller study on patients with colon cancer, which was published in Translational Oncology in February 2012. This current study on calmangafodipir was also published in Translational Oncology (2012;5(6):492-502).

An international phase II study, involving patients with cancer of the large intestine, has recently been initiated. The results are expected at the end of 2013.