JUL 22, 2016 8:04 AM PDT

Antipsychotic Drug Reduces Nausea, Vomiting Caused By Chemo

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham
Nausea and vomiting are among the most common adverse side effects of chemotherapy. In fact, some drugs induce such severe nausea and vomiting that some patients can’t tolerate it all. Now researchers from Sanford Health say that a common antipsychotic drug reduces and may even prevent this nasty side effect in patients undergoing chemotherapy. The discovery could be a game-changer in the quality of life for these patients.

Antipsychotic drug makes huge difference in chemo-induced nausea | Image : healthawarenessforall.com

"We've long known the nausea and vomiting that come along with chemotherapy are a major problem and affect the quality of life of our patients," said Steven Powell, co-author of the study. Among the chemotherapy drugs that have the highest likelihood of causing nausea and vomiting are commonly prescribed ones like cisplatin (Platinol), doxorubicin (Adriamycin), and etoposide (Etopophos).

The drug is known as olanzapine (Zyprexa), and was first approved by the Food and Drug Administration in early 2000 for the treatment of bipolar I disorder, and for schizophrenia. The drug is a dopamine antagonist with a structure similar to clozapine, another atypical antipsychotic used to treat schizophrenia.

Previous clinical trials (Phase I and II) with olanzapine already showed that the drug was safe and efficacious at controlling chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting (CINV). The current trial tested whether olanzapine would truly benefit patients. In this study, the Sanford team followed 380 patients undergoing chemotherapy. About half of the patients (192) were paired with olanzapine, while the other half (188) were paired with a placebo treatment.

Within 24 hours after chemotherapy, the team reported that 74 percent of patients given olanzapine had no nausea or vomiting. By contrast, only about half of the placebo group reported the same outcome. Furthermore, the antiemetic benefits of olanzapine appeared to be sustained. When researchers analyzed patients at between days 1-5, and at day 5, the olanzapine group still fared better in terms of preventing nausea and vomiting.
The team reported no grade 5 toxic effects, though some patients in the olanzapine group had increased sedation on day 2.

“Olanzapine, as compared with placebo, significantly improved nausea prevention, as well as the complete-response rate, among previously untreated patients who were receiving highly emetogenic chemotherapy,” the researchers wrote in their study.

The encouraging results from this trial, along with the fact that the drug is already FDA-approved could mean olanzapine may come to the chemotherapy clinic soon. Even more promising is that the first generic olanzapine was approved in 2011, which means chemotherapy patients can reduce nausea side effects at reduced costs. "The findings of this study, fortunately, provide physicians with a tool to better address the needs of those they are treating for cancer," said Powell.

Additional source: Sanford Health press release
About the Author
I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
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