A drug commonly used to treat fungal infections has been found to have antiangiogenic properties, which could make it a good candidate for a cancer therapy. Researchers at Stanford University found that itraconazole (Sporanox), an agent used mainly to treat infections caused by the fungus Aspergillus, blocks an important cancer signaling pathway called Hedgehog. Mice treated with an oral formulation of the drug had significantly slower growth of skin tumors than untreated mice. Hedgehog is a cellular pathway involved in tumor growth and angiogenesis, the growth of new blood vessels. Inhibition of angiogenesis by targeting Hedgehog is being pursued by several biotechnology to create new cancer drugs.
An earlier study conducted by researchers at Johns Hopkins University found that itraconazole inhibits the proliferation of endothelial cells—cells the line the inner wall of blood vessels, and also blocks two critical pro-angiogenic proteins called vascular endothelial growth factor and basic fibroblast growth factor. Cancerous tumors produce high amounts of these and other pro-angiogenic growth factors in order to develop a blood supply. Therefore itraconazole may interfere with tumor angiogenesis through this mechanism. They also found that itraconazole inhibits another substance involved in angiogenesis—lanosterol 14alpha-demethylase (14DM). Taken together, these findings suggest that itraconazole has the potential to serve as an antiangiogenic drug, and that lanosterol 14DM may be a promising new target for developing new angiogenesis inhibitors.