A natural compound in onions called onionin A (ONA) has several anti-ovarian cancer properties, potentially opening up an entirely new market for one of the Philippines’ important crops.
The drug potential of ONA was discovered by researchers from Japan’s Kumamoto University, who published their findings in the journal Scientific Reports.
The research study focused epithelial ovarian cancer (EOC), which according to a 2014 study by the World Health Organization is the most common type of ovarian cancer, with a five-year survival rate of just 40 percent.
The ONA compound had two cancer fighting effects, the researchers found. First, when introduced to EOC cells in in-vitro experiments, the EOC cells showed inhibited growth, which was attributed to ONA’s effect on STAT3, a protein important for the rapid reproduction and proliferation of cancer cells. Second, the ONA enhanced the effects of a variety of other anti-cancer drugs.
In tests on animals, ONA given orally to mice with ovarian cancer resulted in longer lifespans and inhibited tumor development.
“ONA reduces the progression of malignant ovarian cancer tumors by interfering with the pro-tumor function of myeloid cells. ONA appears to activate anti-tumor immune responses by nullifying the immunosuppressive function of myeloid cells. ONA has the potential to enhance existing anti-cancer drugs while also having little to no cytotoxic effects on normal cells,” the study concluded.
The study also pointed out that there were no apparent side effects in animals tested with ONA, and that an oral drug for human patients should be feasible in the near future.
Potential boon to onion growers
The new findings suggest a potential new market for onion farmers in the Philippines and elsewhere who, despite producing one of the world’s most important staple vegetable crops, are chronically at the mercy of low prices for the commodity.
According to information from the Philippine Statistical Authority (PSA), in 2014 the Philippines produced 203,700 metric tons of onions from 15,800 hectares of land, with a total value of P4.89 billion pesos, or just under P24 per kilogram.
As a point of comparison, a number of drug pricing surveys conducted by universities and health care authorities in the US and UK over the past year reveal that the lowest-cost cancer medicines in those countries range from about $20 to $49 per dose (P960 to P2,352).