Although prednisone is a valuable drug for the treatment of leukemia and other human cancers, it fails to work in a range of animal tumours including two different types of leukemia in mice.(1) Ironically, these experimental cancers were once commonly used by America's National Cancer Institute in attempts to identify promising new drugs!
Prednisone can be even more effective when used in conjunction with certain other anticancer drugs but once again animal tests have proved misleading: of 6 drug combinations showing an improved clinical effect, only one was correctly predicted by animal experiments.(1)
The incentive to develop prednisone stemmed from encouraging results with the closely related steroid, cortisone, a hormone derived from the adrenal gland. In 1930 Californian physicians claimed they had cured human cancers with extracts of adrenal gland. Unfortunately, these findings led to animal rather than human trials and when the former proved negative, the treatment was abandoned.(2) Only when the tests were repeated, a decade later, did researchers confirm that adrenal extracts could be beneficial against some forms of cancer. Promising human trials led to the development of analogues such as prednisone.
1) R.J.Johnson & A.Goldin, Cancer Treatment Reviews, 1975, vol.2, 1-31.
2) B.Reines, Cancer Research on Animals: Impact and Alternatives (NAVS, Chicago, 1986).
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