Gene Therapies Show Promise in Cancer
Experimental Drug That Targets Tumors at Their Roots Also Shows Signs of Success
WebMD News Archive
April 18, 2007 (Los Angeles) -- Researchers are reporting early success
using gene-based therapies to combat cancers ranging from those of lung and
skin to those of the breast and prostate.
Meanwhile, other scientists say that an experimental drug designed to put
the molecular brakes on the growth of tumor-feeding blood vessels shows promise
in people with brain cancer.
While the work is still in its earliest stages, the approaches show great
promise, says William J. Nelson, MD, a professor of oncology at Johns Hopkins
in Baltimore who was not involved with the research.
"We're just beginning to explore their full potential," he tells
The research was discussed at the annual meeting of the American Association
for Cancer Research.
'Smart Bomb' Against Prostate Cancer
Researchers at Columbia University say they have designed a novel
viral-based gene therapy that blasts through the body, targeting both primary
and distant tumor cells, while leaving normal cells unscathed.
Once at its target, the virus replicates and produces a massive amount of a
cancer-killing compound, says researcher Paul B. Fisher, PhD, a professor of
Early results suggest the approach is working. When injected into 15 mice
with prostate cancer that resisted normal cancer drugs, the treatment
eradicated all signs of cancer, essentially producing a cure.
An earlier version of the therapy worked "fairly well" in a study of
people with multiple solid tumors, Fisher says.
There were signs that the cancer cells were committing cell suicide, and
five of the eight people studied are still alive, he tells WebMD.
The improved treatment appears to be "a much more intelligent smart
bomb" that can only replicate in tumor cells, Fisher says. The treatment
also worked in animals with skin and breast cancer.
Nelson comments, "The idea of harnessing the innate power of viruses to
infect cells, reproduce many times and destroy the cancer cell in the process
and then move on to the next cancer cell is a great therapeutic goal."
Gene Therapy Targets Lung Cancer
Researchers at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in
Houston are trying a different tactic, packaging a cancer-suppressing gene in a
fat-based coating for protection.