According to senior author of the study, Jiayuh Lin, “Each chemotherapy drug alone will reduce the growth of cancer cells, but when each single drug is combined with Celebrex, a greater growth suppression effect was observed. For clinicians, this research suggests the possibility of a new therapeutic strategy.”
Celebrex is able to achieve this effect by acting on a gene inside liver cancer cells known as STAT3. When activated, this gene allows cancer cells to resist the effects of chemotherapy drugs. Investigators determined that the celecoxib molecule is capable of attaching itself to STAT3 and blocking its ability to function.
Celebrex is a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug, or NSAID, and a Cox-2 inhibitor, meaning that it helps manage inflammation by blocking an enzyme known as cyclooxygenase-2. The drug is most commonly prescribed in the treatment of arthritis.
The researchers conducted their research by treating a line of liver cancer cells with celecoxib in combination with two chemotherapy drugs: doxorubicin, which is used to treat breast, ovarian, thyroid, gastric, and other cancers, and sorafenib, which is the only chemotherapy medication approved by the FDA for liver cancer treatment. Under its brand name, it is known as Nexavar.
Using both chemotherapy drugs, the addition of celecoxib treatment reduced the number of viable liver cancer cells by anywhere from approximately 50 percent to more than 90 percent, depending on the doses administered. The combination of celecoxib and sorafenib also greatly weakened the cancer cells’ ability to form colonies, an essential element of tumor growth and survival following chemotherapy treatment.
According to Lin, "Because liver cancer has a very low five-year survival rate, it is most likely that even sorafenib alone may not be effective to cure the cancer," Lin hopes that using both drugs together could lead to greater efficacy. Both celecoxib and sorafenib are already approved by the FDA, so Lin his research group believe this combined treatment should be able to be used in the clinic within a short period of time.