A drug used to treat amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a form of motor neurone disease, has been shown to make eye tumours less likely to grow if they spread to other parts of the body, a study conducted at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri has revealed.

The study found that Rilutek (riluzole), manufactured by Sanofi-Aventis, exhibited enhanced anti-tumour activities in GRM1-expressing melanoma cells when given in combination with Bayer and Onyx Pharmaceuticals’ Nexavar (sorafenib), a drug approved for the treatment of primary kidney cancer.

Rilutek, is a histone deacetylase (HDAC) inhibitor. It can alter the DNA of the aggressive form of uveal melanoma, which changes the way key genes are expressed, rendering the tumour cells less aggressive.

Uveal melanoma is the second most common form of melanoma. It can remain dormant in the liver and elsewhere for several years before it begins to grow, but once growth starts, the prospects of survival are poor.

Principal investigator J William Harbour said, "HDAC inhibitors appear to reverse the aggressive molecular signature that we had identified several years ago as a marker for metastatic death. When we look at aggressive melanoma cells under the microscope after treatment with HDAC inhibitors, they look more like normal cells and less like tumour cells."

Clinical trials of HDAC inhibitors could begin in the next six to 12 months, Harbour added.