FYI Daily

Cheap Diabetes Drug Might Fight Cancer

Last updated:

April 09, 2012

The generic diabetes drug metformin might fight several types of cancer, according to research presented at the yearly meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research in Chicago last week.

Metformin, which has been on the U.K. market since 1958 and was approved by the FDA in 1995, helps lower insulin levels in patients with diabetes. But in 2006, researchers started to look into its cancer-fighting properties after one study showed that it increased the activity of a tumor-suppressing enzyme.

Since then, researchers have been getting more and more excited about metformin as cell and animal studies have shown it may slow or stop the growth of many different types of cancer cells, including pancreatic, lung, breast, and prostate cancer cells.

And, because it's a generic drug, it costs just a few cents per pill.

So if metformin is safe, effective, and cheap, why isn't it already being used as a cancer prevention or treatment drug?

It turns out that it's pretty hard to raise money to test generic drugs. In the cases of patented medications, the pharmaceutical companies themselves usually fund the studies, happy to demonstrate the benefits of their drugs.

In contrast, most of the metformin studies are "being done on a shoestring budget, in a sort of informal way," Michael Pollak, a physician and director of cancer prevention at McGill University, in Montreal, told CNN.

And until those studies get done -- large, double-blind, controlled studies, where metformin is contrasted directly with a placebo -- doctors and scientists don't know if the test tube and animal study results they're seeing with metformin will translate into real clinical benefits.