Preventing Cancer Recurrence with Coffee? Markey Launches Unique Clinical Trial

LEXINGTON, Ky. (April 26, 2021)  From Kentucky farms to University of Kentucky labs and now to Kentucky patients, the UK Markey Cancer Center has officially launched a unique new clinical trial to test whether Artemisia annua extract can prevent ovarian cancer recurrence. Markey will be the first site worldwide to initiate a cancer clinical trial that evaluates its anti-cancer activity in humans using ArtemiLife™ Inc. coffee products, which are made using the leaves of the Artemisia annua plant.

Roughly one in every 75 women will develop ovarian cancer, which often spreads beyond the ovary before detection. According to 2020 data estimates from the American Cancer Society, the predicted death rate for ovarian cancer is about 64%.

Ovarian cancer patients who participate in the trial will have completed their initial treatment, which is usually surgery and chemotherapy. When ovarian cancer recurs, it often comes back within the first two years following treatment, sometimes as early as six months. Participants will drink ArtemiLife coffee up to four times daily for five months, beginning one month after treatment ends with the intent to delay or eliminate cancer recurrence.

Dr. Frederick Ueland, a gynecologic oncologist with the UK Markey Cancer Center, says he’s hopeful that this treatment could become a new and innovative therapy for advanced-stage cancer.

“After treatment for ovarian cancer, there will frequently be a period of observation without active therapy,” Ueland said. “That’s a trying time for patients, and sometimes it’s difficult to watch and wait. So that’s the setting we chose to study using ArtemiLife coffee as potential maintenance therapy following primary treatment… it’s exciting, and it’s great to have innovative minds at work, really trying to find new solutions to significant problems.”

The Artemisia annua plant originated in Southeast Asia and has been used as a medicinal herb for centuries. The malaria drug artesunate was derived from its compounds, and lab scientists across the world have been studying its potential applications for other diseases, including several cancers and COVID-19. In fact, a recently published study by Markey researchers showed that artesunate, both alone and in combination with the chemotherapy drugs carboplatin and paclitaxel, showed strong anti-cancer activity in a lab setting at concentrations that are achievable in the clinical setting.

In addition to the ArtemiLife clinical trial for ovarian cancer, UK is also working on developing a similar clinical trial using the blended drinks for lung cancer and another clinical trial using the derivative artesunate as a preventative for recurrence of pediatric acute myeloid leukemia.

“Artemisia annua and artesunate are showing good activity in the lab across multiple cancer types, even when these cancers are resistant to standard treatments,” said Jill Kolesar, Pharm.D., UK College of Pharmacy professor and administrative director of Markey’s Precision Medicine Clinic. “We are excited to bring these promising results out of the lab and into the clinic.”

Artemisia annua is grown and harvested very similarly to tobacco, and Kentucky is currently the only state growing substantial amounts of the plant. The Kentucky Tobacco Research and Development Center at the UK College of Agriculture, Food and Environment currently grows the plant on its own Spindletop Farm; researchers across the University use the yields of that farm. ArtemiLife products use Artemisia annua plants grown at two Kentucky farms in Georgetown and Lancaster.

“For the last three years, we’ve worked with medical and agriculture experts in Kentucky to cultivate the strongest crop of Artemisia annua in the United States,” said ArtemiLife CEO Adam Maust. “ArtemiLife is dedicated to continuing the research needed to truly understand the impact of Artemisia annua.”