Disulfiram: An old anti-alcoholism medicine gives cancer patients new hope

  • Thu 16 Jun 22

    13:00 - 14:00

  • Online


  • Event speaker

    Weiguang Wang

  • Event type

    Lectures, talks and seminars

  • Event organiser

    Life Sciences, School of

  • Contact details

    Dr Ralf Zwacka

There are over 200 types of cancer reported all over the globe. The risk of getting cancer is as high as 1:2 -1:3 in the West but WHO predictions suggest cancer risks are also dramatically increasing in low-medium income countries likely to lead to estimated 21 million deaths world wide by 2030.

Although the outcomes of cancer treatment have been improved in the last three decades most of them remain ‘incurable’. The complexity of this disease at genetic and phenotypic levels leads to its clinical diversity and therapeutic resistance. The recent discovery that many cancers are probably driven by a small sub-population of cancer stem cells (CSCs), suggests that the therapeutic outcomes will be significantly improved by effectively targeting CSCs.

The medical need for better cancer therapies is urgent while drug development is slow and costly, mainly due to the large risk of toxicity of novel molecules. Development of a new drug takes on average 15 years and US$1.5bn with only 5-25% of new oncology drugs in clinical development actually reaching the market. This has led to an increasing appreciation of the potential of repurposing of known drugs.

We have shown that disulfiram, an anti-alcoholism drug used in clinic for over 60 years, shows specific activity against a wide range of cancers. Importantly, we have been able to demonstrate that disulfiram specifically destroys cancer-stem-like cells and enhances the cytotoxicity of several conventional first-line anticancer drugs.

Although disulfiram shows strong anticancer activity in laboratory, clinical use of disulfiram as an anti-cancer drug is limited by its rapid degradation and extensive metabolic conversion in the bloodstream.

To overcome this bottleneck, we recently used nano-technology to wrap disulfiram into nanoparticles and extend its half-life in the blood from 4 minutes to over 7 hours and obtained very promising anticancer activity in cell culture and in brain, breast, liver, lung cancer and mesothelioma animal models. Nano-wrapped disulfiram blocks tumour growth and metastasis in mouse models. The preliminary clinical studies manifested very promising outcomes in pancreatic, lung and breast cancer patients.

Disulfiram is a Food and Drug Administration approved drug. Our invention will quickly lead it into cancer treatment. The success of our study will significantly benefit our cancer patients and economy.


Professor Wang is the Head of Experimental Cancer Therapeutics Group in University of Wolverhampton. He obtained his MB in Hebei United University, China; Msc/MD in Beijing Postgraduate Medical School/PLA 301 Hospital, Beijing; and his PhD in Manchester Metropolitan University, Manchester, UK. Before joining University of Wolverhampton in 2005, he worked as a senior research scientist in Paterson and Beatson Institutes for Cancer Research and University of Aberdeen.

Professor Wang’s research interests focus on modulation of hypoxia, NFkB and CSC to tackle chemoresistance. He identified an antialcoholism drug, disulfiram, as a very strong NFkB and CSC inhibitor. He is one of the international leading scientists in this area. In collaboration with scientists in China, Europe and USA, his team is using nano-delivery system to translate Disulfiram into cancer therapeutics.

How to attend

This seminar is being held on Zoom (meeting ID: 925 4561 0277) only.

If you have any queries about this seminar please email Dr Ralf Zwacka (rzwacka@essex.ac.uk).