Finding an effective and affordable drug for Kaposi sarcoma

Shane McAllister

Kaposi sarcoma, a cancer associated with immune disorders that develops in lymph and blood cells, can cause serious or even life-threatening problems.

In African countries, in particular, it is one of the most commonly diagnosed cancers and is almost always fatal.

But it doesn’t have to be that way, asserts Shane McAllister, M.D., Ph.D., U pediatrics faculty member and recipient of the Masonic Early Investigator Award. In the United States, for example, treating HIV infection with anti-retroviral therapy has resulted in fewer cases of Kaposi sarcoma. However, in many African countries where the therapy is not easy to obtain, Kaposi sarcoma can advance quickly.

“Because of economic constraints, the majority of children and adults in African countries who are diagnosed with Kaposi sarcoma die of the disease,” says McAllister. That’s why he and his team are working to identify generic drugs that are both effective and affordable for people with this cancer.

Recently, McAllister’s team discovered that propranolol, a drug typically used for hypertension, has strong effects against Kaposi sarcoma cells. This is a promising development because a lot is already known about propranolol’s safety and the drug is available in a generic form. Additionally, the World Health Organization lists propranolol as an “essential medicine” that should be available “at all times in adequate amounts…at a price the individual and the community can afford.”

The next big steps for McAllister and his team are to determine propranolol’s safety and efficacy in mice and, ultimately, develop a clinical trial to test it in people.

“Support from Minnesota Masonic Charities has directly contributed to this research by providing funds for my technicians as well as critical laboratory supplies. It has allowed me to generate the data necessary to compete for NIH funding.”