New research published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation indicates that antiangiogenic drugs designed to fight cancer by blocking tumor blood supply could also augment treatment for a wide range of infectious diseases by boosting the body’s immune response.

Researchers at the Centre for Immunology and Infection at the University of York, United Kingdom, show that antiangiogenic drugs administered with antimicrobial therapy can reverse damage to certain immunity-generating organs and tissues, such as the spleen. These organs and tissues are often destroyed by chronic infection or inflammation. Their research focused on a tropical disease called visceral leishmaniasis that is caused by a single-celled parasite. Each year, there are approximately 2 million cases of leishmaniasis worldwide, of which 500,000 are of the potentially fatal form of the disease (visceral leishmaniasis).

Researchers treated leishmaniasis-infected mice with the antiangiogenic agent Sutent® (sunitinib) followed by an anti-parasite treatment. The mice treated with Sutent had significantly less enlargement of the spleen, a main target organ of leishmaniasis, and a reversal of tissue damage. Further, Sutent appeared to boost the immune response of the mice.

The resulting improvement in the immune response could increase the effectiveness of conventional treatments for leishmaniasis and other diseases, allowing doctors to use lower doses of existing drugs that otherwise have harmful side effects.

Professor Paul Kaye, Director of the Centre for Immunology and Infection, said “While our research has focused on leishmaniasis, the findings could have implications for a range of globally important diseases. Our research also identifies ways that antiangiogenic drugs might be used more effectively in the treatment of cancers.”