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Cancer Health Center

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A Cure for Cancer? New Anticancer Drugs Living Up to Promise

A look at angiogenesis inhibitors, experimental cancer treatments.
WebMD Health News

March 10, 2000 (New York) -- When The New York Times ran a front-page story in May 1998, Harvard professor M. Judah Folkman, MD, and his work with experimental cancer drugs quickly became the hope of the future.

The new drugs -- called angiogenesis inhibitors -- worked in mice by blocking the formation of blood vessels like arteries that feed tumors. And the tumors starved.

Angiogenesis is the body's process of making new blood vessels. Cancers need new blood vessels in order to grow and spread. But drugs that block the formation of these new blood vessels can cut off the tumors' blood supply - hopefully killing them.

Without new blood vessels, tumors can't grow past pinhead size, he explains. And there are certain proteins in humans that naturally prevent angiogenesis, Folkman tells WebMD.

So Folkman, a professor of pediatric surgery at Harvard Medical School, and his colleagues essentially cured the mice's cancer.

Now, almost two years later, nearly 20 of these drugs are in human trials and about five of them are in the final stage of human testing, Folkman said Tuesday at a lecture at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York. These trials compare the results of people taking the new treatment with results of people taking standard treatments.

And so far, so good, Folkman tells WebMD. In fact, Folkman has shrunk cancers in humans with one drug called interferon-alpha. In one case, he was able to shrink a tennis ball-sized jaw tumor in a girl who, if not for the new drug, would have become disfigured from receiving radiation to her face. The drug showed similar results for a patient with pelvic cancer and another patient with hand cancer, Folkman says.

Interferon-alpha shuts off a chemical that stimulates cells that form blood vessels' walls. If not shut off, the chemical stimulates the cells, causing them to divide, produce more cells like themselves, and eventually form a new blood vessel that feeds the tumor. Interferon-alpha stops that process.

Other angiogenesis-inhibiting drugs in the final stage of trial include Marimastat, Neovastat, AG 3340, and IM 862, he says.

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