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Toad Venom Studied in Cancer Treatment

CancerWise - January 2008

By Darcy De Leon

Toad venom extract, which has been used in China to treat cancer, had some benefit and no apparent side effects in a small Chinese study involving patients with hepatocellular carcinoma (a type of liver cancer), as well as lung and pancreatic cancer, researchers say.

The Phase I study of 15 patients, presented at the annual meeting of the Society for Integrative Oncology, was a collaborative research project between
M. D. Anderson and Cancer Hospital, Fudan University in Shanghai.

The trial is part of the International Center of Traditional Chinese Medicine for Cancer funded by the National Cancer Institute, says Lorenzo Cohen, Ph.D., principal investigator on studies representing the center and director of
M. D. Anderson’s Integrative Medicine Program.


The joint study involves the experimental agent HuaChanSu, the water extract of ChauSu, a type of dried toad venom (dried secretion from the skin glands).

Several pharmocologic studies conducted in China and pre-clinical research at
M. D. Anderson have shown that HuaChanSu can stop the growth of tumors and improve how the immune system functions, Cohen says.

“The studies suggest that HuaChanSu has anticancer activity in different in vitro and in vivo, animal and lab models, respectively.”

In China, previous research with HuaChanSu in patients with lung cancer and hepatocellular carcinoma resulted in regression of their disease and alleviation of pain and fatigue caused by chemotherapy drugs, Cohen says.

A maximum tolerated dose (MTD) of the treatment has not been established in China or in other countries.

Goal of the study

The trial at Cancer Hospital, Fudan University was conducted to examine the feasibility, safety, MTD and side effects of cancer treatment using HuaChanSu, Cohen says.

Significance of results

“There were no side effects apparent in patients treated with six times the typical dose used in China, and there was some level of stabilizing tumor growth and 20% tumor shrinkage in one patient at lower doses,” says Zhiqiang Meng, principal investigator on the Phase I trial and an associate professor and deputy chair of the Department of Integrative Oncology at Cancer Hospital, Fudan University. “Although there also were patients who had tumor growth, the fact that there was some stabilization and no dose-limiting toxicities is encouraging.”

Research methods

Fifteen patients (three in each of five different dose-level groups) took part in the study (11 patients with hepatocellular carcinoma, two with non-small cell lung cancer and two with pancreatic cancer).

HuaChanSu was administered intravenously every day for 14 days, followed by seven days off, which represented one cycle.

Primary results

In all five groups, there were no dose-limiting toxicities found and no cardiac toxicities observed.

One of the patients dropped out of the study after one cycle of treatment without getting a final computed tomography (CT) scan.

Of the 14 patients who finished the experimental treatment:

  • Six (43%) had stable disease (no tumor growth)
  • Eight (57%) had progression of disease

What’s next?

An ongoing Phase II clinical trial in China is comparing the effects of HuaChanSu combined with gemcitabine (Gemzar®) to gemcitabine combined with a placebo for patients with advanced pancreatic cancer, Cohen says.

M. D. Anderson resources:

© 2015 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center