June 12, 1998

VUMC testing new drug that cuts off tumors’ food supply

VUMC testing new drug that cuts off tumors' food supply

The Vanderbilt Cancer Center is leading a national treatment study of a new anti-cancer drug designed to choke off the blood supply a tumor needs to grow and spread.

Tumor cells produce certain growth factors that spark the development of the tumor¹s own blood vessels. This new drug prevents one of these growth factors from carrying out its job, which is to cause the formation of cells to line the new blood vessels.

"In animal studies, the drug stunts the tumor," said Dr. Russell F. DeVore, assistant professor of Medicine. "When it¹s combined with chemotherapy, it produces an even greater effect from the new drug and the chemotherapy drug."

The drug targets the vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF). It is among a promising new family of anti-cancer drugs that interfere with the production of a tumor¹s blood supply. The approach is called anti-angiogenesis, and researchers at the VCC have been the first to study several of these new drugs, including mirimastat, AG-3340 and CM-101, which was discovered at Vanderbilt.

Researchers at the VCC and the manufacturer of the VEGF antibody designed the study, which opened this month. It will be available at the VCC and between six and 10 other major cancer centers in the United States, including M.D. Anderson and Fox Chase cancer centers.

In addition, the study will be offered at most of the 12 hospitals in Tennessee, Kentucky and Alabama that are part of the VCC Affiliate Network for clinical trials, including St. Thomas Hospital in Nashville.

"This is very exciting because this is a unique trial of one of the newest kinds of anti-cancer agents," said DeVore, medical director of the affiliate network.

"Through our affiliate network, patients in Chattanooga, Knoxville, and other towns throughout the region will have access to this study in their own communities. Many patients in other parts of the country will have to travel great distances from home to participate."

The study is open to patients with non-small cell lung cancer who have not received previous chemotherapy. Patients are randomly assigned to one of three treatment groups. Two groups receive standard chemotherapy using the drugs paclitaxel and carboplatin, plus Dose A or Dose B of the VEGF antibody. The third group receives standard chemotherapy alone.

"If the patients in the third group become resistant to the effects of paclitaxel and carboplatin, they can then be treated with the antibody," DeVore said. "Everyone will have some chance at getting the experimental drug."

The study aims to determine the most effective dose of the antibody, whether it produces any side effects apart from those caused by chemotherapy, and whether using it is more effective than standard chemotherapy alone.

So far in early tests, the antibody has produced no side effects of its own other than infrequent fevers and similar infection-like symptoms shortly after delivery of the drug, DeVore said.

Patients cannot enter the study if they have undergone recent surgery because the drug¹s action against VEGF could potentially interfere with wound healing, he said.