Beta blocker heart medicines have been available for decades. Drugs like propranolol are prescribed to treat the pain of angina, lower high blood pressure and prevent migraine headaches. Might they also have a role in the burgeoning field of cancer immunotherapy?

Beta Blockers Improve the Impact of Cancer Immunotherapy:

In recent years, drug companies have developed cancer medications that work through the patient’s own immune system. These include checkpoint inhibitors such as pembrolizumab (Keytruda) and nivolumab (Opdivo). Such medications are often helpful for metastatic melanoma, although they do not work for all patients. Moreover, the price tag for these treatments can be breathtaking.

Now, researchers report that the old and inexpensive medicines known as beta blockers may boost the effectiveness of such pricey new cancer medications. A review of medical records showed that patients with metastatic melanoma fared better on cancer immunotherapy if they were also taking nonselective beta blockers like propranolol (Kokolus et al, Oncoimmunology, online, Dec. 21, 2017).

Mouse Study Confirms the Benefit:

A follow-up experiment in mice demonstrated that immunotherapy for melanoma was more effective when paired with propranolol. We will be watching for further research to determine whether propranolol or other cheap beta blockers truly can turbo-charge cancer immunotherapy.

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