Feature

Old drug, new tricks

Metformin, cheap and widely used for diabetes, takes a swipe at cancer

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3:00pm, November 15, 2013

A NEW TRICK  Known as goat’s rue, holy hay, French lilac and Italian fitch, Galega officinalis was an ancient herbal remedy. Now its derivative, the diabetes drug metformin, may find new uses treating cancer and other diseases.

Like an aging actor rediscovered after being typecast for years, the long-standing diabetes drug metformin is poised to reinvent itself. A wealth of studies suggests the drug has cancer-fighting properties, and clinical trials are now under way to prove it.

Metformin’s impact could be huge. “We believe that if this drug works, it will save between 100,000 and 150,000 lives a year worldwide because it is readily administered in countries that don’t have a lot of money for drugs,” says Vuk Stambolic, a molecular biologist at the University of Toronto. Also encouraging is the wide array of cancers metformin may treat — uterine, liver, pancreatic, colon, lung, ovarian and breast. Metformin may even help prevent cancer in people at high risk.

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