(Anti-cancer) Ivermectin: enigmatic multifaceted ‘wonder’ drug continues to surprise and exceed expectations
Over the past decade, the global scientific community have begun to recognize the unmatched value of an extraordinary drug, ivermectin, that originates from a single microbe unearthed from soil in Japan. Work on ivermectin has seen its discoverer, Satoshi Ōmura, of Tokyo’s prestigious Kitasato Institute, receive the 2014 Gairdner Global Health Award and the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, which he shared with a collaborating partner in the discovery and development of the drug, William Campbell of Merck & Co. Incorporated. Today, ivermectin is continuing to surprise and excite scientists, offering more and more promise to help improve global public health by treating a diverse range of diseases, with its unexpected potential as an antibacterial, antiviral and anti-cancer agent being particularly extraordinary.
The unique and extraordinary microorganism that produces the avermectins (from which ivermectin is derived) was discovered by Ōmura in 1973 (Figure 1). It was sent to Merck laboratories to be run through a specialized screen for anthelmintics in 1974 and the avermectins were found and named in 1975. The safer and more effective derivative, ivermectin, was subsequently commercialized, entering the veterinary, agricultural and aquaculture markets in 1981. The drug’s potential in human health was confirmed a few years later and it was registered in 1987 and immediately provided free of charge (branded as Mectizan)—‘as much as needed for as long as needed’—with the goal of helping to control Onchocerciasis (also known as River Blindness) among poverty-stricken populations throughout the tropics. Uses of donated ivermectin to tackle other so-called ‘neglected tropical diseases’ soon followed, while commercially available products were introduced for the treatment of other human diseases.