Drugs That Control Genes May Treat Lung Cancer
Researchers Report Some Success Against Advanced Lung Cancer With Epigenetic Drugs
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The figure from the new study, however, included 11 patients who dropped out of the study before finishing a single cycle of treatment.
Among patients who finished at least one full treatment cycle, the average survival was even higher, about 8.6 months.
What's more, four of 19 patients who got chemotherapy after the experimental drug combo had dramatic responses to those treatments, "raising the hypothesis that maybe the epigenetic therapy is in some way priming the tumor for response to chemotherapy," Rudin says.
In total, seven patients who took part in the trial are still alive; two have survived for more than four years.
Two patients in the study had remarkable results.
In one patient, the cancer completely disappeared for 14 months, though she later developed a different kind of lung cancer that proved fatal.
A second patient saw tumors that had spread to his liver vanish and the primary tumor in his lung shrink.
Researchers described the drugs as well tolerated with few side effects for patients. The most commonly reported side effect was fatigue.
Despite their promising results, researchers say there's still a lot more to be learned before the epigenetic therapy becomes a mainstream treatment.
"This trial is small," Rudin says, "and these results certainly need to be confirmed in a larger study population."
Researchers say larger studies testing the drug combo are already underway.
"This is not yet a study that would in any way impact standard of care for this disease. But I think it opens up a new avenue that may be of real benefit to these patients," Rudin says.
The drugs are believed to work by blocking a process that stops the activity of genes that naturally block tumor growth. In some cancers, these genes are switched off, taking out one of the body's natural defenses.
In contrast to drugs that target a specific gene or a mutation in a gene when it shows up in cancers, epigenetic therapies aim to control gene expression.
To help explain how it works, researcher Stephen A. Baylin, MD, professor and deputy director of the Kimmel Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins University, likens genes to the hard drive on a computer.