Stanford Researchers Create “Evolved” Protein That May Stop Breast & Ovarian Cancers From Spreading

 Early but promising tests in lab mice suggest that a bioengineered protein therapy, administered intravenously, may halt the spread of breast and ovarian cancers from their original tumor sites. Mice with ovarian cancer had a 90 percent reduction in metastatic nodules when treated with the engineered decoy protein. This approach might one day provide an alternative to, or supplement, chemotherapy.

A team of Stanford researchers has developed a protein therapy that disrupts the process that causes cancer cells to break away from the original tumor site, travel through the bloodstream and start aggressive new growths elsewhere in the body.

stanford metastasis_news

Drs. Jennifer Cochran and Amato Giaccia led a team of researchers who have developed an experimental therapy to treat metastatic cancer. (Photo: Rod Searcey)

This process, known as “metastasis,” can cause cancer to spread with deadly effect.

“The majority of patients who succumb to cancer fall prey to metastatic forms of the disease,” said Dr. Jennifer Cochran, an associate professor of bioengineering, who describes a new therapeutic approach in Nature Chemical Biology.

Today, doctors try to slow or stop metastasis with chemotherapy, but these treatments are unfortunately not very effective and have severe side effects.

The Stanford team seeks to stop metastasis, without side effects, by preventing two proteins – Axl and Gas6 – from interacting to initiate the spread of cancer.

Axl proteins stand like bristles on the surface of cancer cells, poised to receive biochemical signals from Gas6 proteins.

When two Gas6 proteins link with two Axls, the signals that are generated enable cancer cells to leave the original tumor site, migrate to other parts of the body, and form new cancer nodules.

To stop this process Cochran used protein engineering to create a harmless version of Axl that acts like a decoy. This decoy Axl latches on to Gas6 proteins in the bloodstream and prevents them from linking with and activating the Axls present on cancer cells.

In collaboration with Dr. Amato Giaccia, who leads the Radiation & Cancer Biology Program in the Stanford Cancer Center, the researchers gave intravenous treatments of this bioengineered decoy protein to mice with aggressive breast and ovarian cancers.

The mice in the breast cancer treatment group had 78 percent fewer metastatic nodules than the untreated mice. Mice with ovarian cancer had a 90 percent reduction in metastatic nodules when treated with the engineered decoy protein.

“This is a very promising therapy that appears to be effective and nontoxic in preclinical experiments,” Giaccia said. “It could open up a new approach to cancer treatment.”

Drs. Giaccia and Cochran are scientific advisors to Ruga Corporation, a biotechnology startup located in Palo Alto that has licensed this technology from Stanford. Further preclinical and animal tests must be done before determining whether this therapy is safe and effective in humans.

Professor, Molecular Neurobiology Laboratory,  Françoise Gilot-Salk Chair

Professor, Molecular Neurobiology Laboratory,
Françoise Gilot-Salk Chair, Salk Institute

Greg Lemke, of the Molecular Neurobiology Laboratory at the Salk Institute, called this “a prime example of what bioengineering can do” to open new therapeutic approaches to treat metastatic cancer.

“One of the remarkable things about this work is the binding affinity of the decoy protein,” said Lemke, a noted authority on Axl and Gas6 who was not part of the Stanford experiments.

“The decoy attaches to Gas6 up to a hundredfold more effectively than the natural Axl,” Lemke said. “It really sops up Gas6 and takes it out of action.”

Directed Evolution

The Stanford approach is grounded on the fact that all biological processes are driven by the interaction of proteins, the molecules that fit together in lock-and-key fashion to perform all the tasks required for living things to function.

In nature, proteins evolve over millions of years. But bioengineers have developed ways to accelerate the process of improving these tiny parts using technology called “directed evolution.” This particular application was the subject of the doctoral thesis of Mihalis Kariolis, a bioengineering graduate student in Cochran’s lab.

Using genetic manipulation, the Stanford team created millions of slightly different DNA sequences. Each DNA sequence coded for a different variant of Axl.

The researchers then used high-throughput screening to evaluate more than 10 million Axl variants. Their goal was to find the variant that bound most tightly to Gas6.

 (Video: Tim Saguinsin, Ricecooker Studios)

Kariolis made other tweaks to enable the bioengineered decoy to remain in the bloodstream longer and also to tighten its grip on Gas6, rendering the decoy interaction virtually irreversible.

Yu Rebecca Miao, a postdoctoral scholar in Giaccia’s lab, designed the testing in animals and worked with Kariolis to administer the decoy Axl to the lab mice. They also did comparison tests to show that sopping up Gas6 resulted in far fewer secondary cancer nodules.

Irimpan Mathews, a protein crystallography expert at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, joined the research effort to help the team better understand the binding mechanism between the Axl decoy and Gas6.

Protein crystallography captures the interaction of two proteins in a solid form, allowing researchers to take X-ray-like images of how the atoms in each protein bind together. These images showed molecular changes that allowed the bioengineered Axl decoy to bind Gas6 far more tightly than the natural Axl protein.

Next Steps

Years of work lie ahead to determine whether this protein therapy can be approved to treat cancer in humans. Bioprocess engineers must first scale up production of the Axl decoy to generate pure material for clinical tests. Clinical researchers must then perform additional animal tests in order to win approval for and to conduct human trials. These are expensive and time-consuming steps.

But these early, promising results suggest that the Stanford approach could become a nontoxic way to fight metastatic cancer.

Glenn Dranoff, M.D., a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and a leading researcher at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, reviewed an advance copy of the Stanford paper but was otherwise unconnected with the research. “It is a beautiful piece of biochemistry and has some nuances that make it particularly exciting,” Dranoff said, noting that tumors often have more than one way to ensure their survival and propagation.

Axl has two protein cousins, Mer and Tyro3, that can also promote metastasis. Mer and Tyro3 are also activated by Gas6.

“So one therapeutic decoy might potentially affect all three related proteins that are critical in cancer development and progression,” Dranoff said.

Erinn Rankin, a postdoctoral fellow in the Giaccia lab, carried out proof of principle experiments that paved the way for this study.

Other co-authors on the Nature Chemical Biology paper include Douglas Jones, a former doctoral student, and Shiven Kapur, a postdoctoral scholar, both of Cochran’s lab, who contributed to the protein engineering and structural characterization, respectively.

Cochran said Stanford’s support for interdisciplinary research made this work possible.

Stanford ChEM-H (Chemistry, Engineering & Medicine for Human Health) provided seed funds that allowed Cochran and Mathews to collaborate on protein structural studies.

The Stanford Wallace H. Coulter Translational Research Grant Program, which supports collaborations between engineers and medical researchers, supported the efforts of Cochran and Giaccia to apply cutting-edge bioengineering techniques to this critical medical need.



Dana Farber Webchat: The Latest in Ovarian Cancer Treatment & Research

The latest developments in ovarian cancer treatment and research are addressed in the video below via a Dana-Farber Cancer Institute webchat that was conducted on September 16, 2014.

The Susan F. Smith Center for Women’s Cancers at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute conducted a live video webchat panel with Ursula Matulonis, M.D., medical director of the Gynecologic Oncology Program, and gynecologic oncologists Panos Konstantinopoulos, M.D., Ph.D., and Susana Campos, M.D., MPH. The live webchat was held on September 16, 2014.

The general webchat topics addressed by the Dana-Farber doctors are listed below. For your convenience, we also provided the approximate video start time associated with each discussion topic. The entire video runs 49 minutes and 20 seconds.

  • Various types/subtypes of ovarian cancer and treatment differences. [1:40 minutes]
  • CA-125 and other ovarian cancer biomarkers. [5:10 minutes]
  • Areas of ongoing ovarian cancer research. [9:28 minutes]
  • Ovarian cancer treatment alternatives to standard of care chemotherapy. [13:55 minutes]
  • PARP Inhibitors & Immunotherapy. [15:03 minutes]
  • Mechanisms to reverse platinum drug resistance. [17:15 minutes]
  • Correlation between ovarian cancer and HPV (Human papillomavirus). [19:30 minutes]
  • The use of clinical trials for the treatment of ovarian cancer. [19:43 minutes]
  • Stage 1 ovarian cancer prognosis. [21:47 minutes]
  • Gene mutations related to hereditary ovarian cancer risk. [22:55 minutes]
  • Treatment options for platinum drug refractory/resistant ovarian cancer. [25:27 minutes]
  • Treatment of BRCA gene-mutated ovarian cancer patients. [27:50 minutes]
  • Ovarian cancer prevention. [30:18 minutes]
  • Promising treatments for ovarian clear cell cancer. [31:43 minutes]
  • Proper nutrition during and after ovarian cancer treatment. [33:47 minutes]
  • Symptoms associated with an ovarian cancer recurrence. [35:06 minutes]
  • Ovarian neuroendocrine cancer. [36:16 minutes]
  • Small-cell ovarian cancer. [39:22 minutes]
  • Origin of ovarian cancer. [42:41 minutes]
  • Treatment options for isolated or limited recurrent ovarian cancer tumors/lesions. [45:26 minutes]
  • Closing: Most Exciting Ovarian Cancer Developments. [47:07 minutes]


SU2C Announces the Formation of a New Translational Research Ovarian Cancer “Dream Team”

Ovarian Cancer Community Joins Forces to Fight Deadliest Gynecologic Cancer. The New Stand Up To Cancer Dream Team Will Launch in 2015.

The Ovarian Cancer Research Fund, The Ovarian Cancer National Alliance, and the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition Team Up to Fund New Translational Research Ovarian Cancer “Dream Team.”



A groundbreaking collaboration is underway among three national ovarian cancer organizations: Ovarian Cancer Research Fund (OCRF), Ovarian Cancer National Alliance (OCNA), and National Ovarian Cancer Coalition (NOCC). In partnership with Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C), this group will fund a new Ovarian Cancer Dream Team dedicated to piloting leading-edge, ovarian cancer research that will help patients and save lives.

This partnership was announced tonight by actor Pierce Brosnan on the Stand Up To Cancer’s biennial telecast, and in recognition of National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. The SU2C-OCRF-OCNA-NOCC Translational Research Dream Team grant will provide funding, over a three-year period, for research associated with this insidious disease.

Ovarian cancer is the deadliest of all the gynecologic cancers. Almost 22,000 American women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2014, and more than 14,000 women will lose their lives to the disease. By collaborating to fund an Ovarian Cancer Dream Team, OCRF, OCNA and NOCC, with SU2C, will further research in the field that can lead to new treatments and improved patient outcomes.

Later this month, SU2C, through its science partner the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), will issue a “Call for Ideas” from researchers and scientists worldwide. The selected Dream Team will be announced next spring, with research beginning in July 2015.

OCRF“Ovarian Cancer Research Fund has been the leading nonprofit funder of ovarian cancer research for years, and this new collaboration is a wonderful way to mark our 20th anniversary,” said Audra Moran, CEO of Ovarian Cancer Research Fund. “We are excited that the Dream Team grant will continue our long tradition of supporting the most innovative research in the field, while providing scientists with a vital new source of financial support.”

OCNA1Calaneet Balas, CEO of the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance, said: “I am so thrilled that our three organizations are coming together to fight the disease we all care so much about. I believe the Ovarian Cancer Dream Team will be paradigm-shifting for our community, and I cannot wait to see what comes from this new initiative. We’re proud of the work the Alliance has done to secure federal research funding on behalf of all women, but the Dream Team gives us new opportunities for collaboration and innovation.”

NOCC - Logo“We are both proud and excited to join in supporting the Ovarian Cancer Dream Team, the first-ever collaboration of such efforts,” said David Barley, CEO of the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition. “We are looking forward to being instrumental in furthering ovarian cancer research. The impacts on families and communities continue to make ovarian cancer “More Than a Woman’s Disease®.” By working together we hope to make a difference in the lives of everyone we touch.”

About the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund
The Ovarian Cancer Research Fund (OCRF), founded in 1994, is the oldest and largest charity in the United States funding ovarian cancer research, and ranks third in overall ovarian cancer research funding only after the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD). Its mission is to fund scientific research that leads to more effective identification, treatment, and ultimately a cure for ovarian cancer, as well as related educational and support initiatives. OCRF has invested nearly $60 million in ovarian cancer research through 217 grants to scientists at 65 leading medical centers in the United States. OCRF continues to take the lead in funding the best and most promising ovarian cancer research while supporting women and their loved ones affected by this terrible disease in our quest to end it. For more information, please visit

About the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance
The Ovarian Cancer National Alliance is a powerful voice for everyone touched by ovarian cancer. We connect survivors, women at risk, caregivers, and health providers with the information and resources they need. We ensure that ovarian cancer is a priority for lawmakers and agencies in Washington, DC, and throughout the country. We help our community raise their voices on behalf of every life that has been affected by this disease. For more information, please visit:

About the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition
Since its inception in 1995, the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition (NOCC) has been committed to raising awareness, promoting education, and funding research in support of women, families, and communities touched by ovarian cancer. NOCC is well-established as an important national advocate for patients and families struggling with ovarian cancer. NOCC remains steadfast in its mission to save lives by fighting tirelessly to prevent and cure ovarian cancer, and to improve the quality of life for survivors. For more information, please visit:

About Stand Up To Cancer
Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C) raises funds to accelerate the pace of research to get new therapies to patients quickly and save lives now. SU2C, a program of the Entertainment Industry Foundation (EIF) and a 501(c)(3) charitable organization, was established in 2008 by film and media leaders who utilize the industry’s resources to engage the public in supporting a new, collaborative model of cancer research, and to increase awareness about cancer prevention as well as progress being made in the fight against the disease. For more information, please visit:

Tel Aviv University Researchers Target Drug-Resistant Ovarian Tumors with Nanotechnology

Tel Aviv University researchers devise a fast and effective nanotechnology — called “gagomers” — to combat drug-resistant ovarian cancer.

Professor Dan Peer of Tel Aviv University’s Department of Cell Research and Immunology has proposed a new strategy to tackle drug-resistant ovarian cancer using a new nanoscale drug-delivery system designed to target specific cancer cells. The study was published in February in the journal ACS Nano.

Nanotechnology usually refers to an object that is 1-to–100 nanometers in size. A nanometer is a billionth of a meter. By comparison, the width of a strand of hair is approximately 100,000 times larger than a nanometer.

Prof. Peer and his team — Keren Cohen and Rafi Emmanuel from Peer’s Laboratory of Nanomedicine and Einat Kisin-Finfer and Doron Shabbat, from TAU’s Department of Chemistry — devised a cluster of nanoparticles called “gagomers,” which are made from fats and coated with a kind of polysugar. When filled with chemotherapy drugs (in this case doxorubicin), these clusters accumulate in tumors, producing dramatic therapeutic benefits.

The objective of Peer’s research is two-fold: to provide a specific target for anti-cancer drugs to increase their therapeutic benefits, and to reduce the toxic side effects of anti-cancer therapies.

Why Chemotherapy Fails

According to Prof. Peer, traditional courses of chemotherapy are not an effective line of attack. Chemotherapy’s failing lies in the inability of the medicine to be absorbed and maintained within the tumor cell long enough to destroy it. In most cases, the chemotherapy drug is almost immediately ejected by the cancer cell, severely damaging the healthy organs that surround it, leaving the tumor cell intact.

Gagomers (labeled in color) accumulating on ovarian cancer cells. (Credit: Image courtesy of American Friends of Tel Aviv University)

Gagomers (labeled in color) accumulating on ovarian cancer cells.
(Credit: Image courtesy of American Friends of Tel Aviv University)

But with this new nanotechnology therapy, Peer and his colleagues saw a 25-fold increase in tumor-accumulated medication and a dramatic dip in toxic accumulation in healthy organs. Tested on laboratory mice, the gagomer affects a change in drug-resistant ovarian cancer tumor cells. Receptors on tumor cells recognize the sugar that encases the gagomer, allowing the binding gagomer to slowly release tiny particles of chemotherapy into the cancerous cell. As more and more of the drug accumulates within the tumor cell, the cancer cells begin to die off within 24-48 hours. In this preclinical setting, the doxorubicin encased gagomers even outperformed pegylated liposomal doxorubicin (Doxil) — a standard of care drug used to treat recurrent ovarian cancer.

“Tumors become resistant very quickly. Following the first, second, and third courses of chemotherapy, the tumors start pumping drugs out of the cells as a survival mechanism,” said Prof. Peer. “Most patients with tumor cells beyond the ovaries relapse and ultimately die due to the development of drug resistance. We wanted to create a safe drug-delivery system, which wouldn’t harm the body’s immune system or organs.”

A Personal Perspective

Prof. Peer chose to tackle ovarian cancer in his research because his mother-in-law passed away at the age of 54 from the disease. “She received all the courses of chemotherapy and survived only a year and a half,” Peer said. “She died from the drug-resistant aggressive tumors.”

“At the end of the day, you want to do something natural, simple, and smart. We are committed to try to combine both laboratory and therapeutic arms to create a less toxic, focused drug that combats aggressive drug-resistant cancerous cells,” said Prof. Peer. “We hope the concept will be harnessed in the next few years in clinical trials on aggressive tumors,” said Prof. Peer.


Ovarian Cancer Survivor Seeks “Compassionate Use” Drug Exemption From BioMarin to Save Her Life

Andrea Sloan, a 7-year survivor of stage 3c ovarian cancer, is seeking a “compassionate use” exemption from pharmaceutical company BioMarin to save her life. Sloan is scheduled to start treatment at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center on September 5 and would like to obtain access to the “PARP 1/2 inhibitor” drug known as “BMN 673” by that time. A robust grassroots campaign in support of Sloan has emerged on social media and in an effort to get an affirmative response from BioMarin.

Andrea Sloan, a seven-year survivor of ovarian cancer, is seeking a compassionate use exemption from pharmaceutical company BioMarin to save her life. Sloan, the executive director of a non-profit that advocates for survivors of domestic violence and abuse, now finds herself forced to publicly advocate for herself in a last chance effort to get the cancer treatment she needs.

Andrea Sloan, a 7-year, stage 3c survivor of ovarian cancer, is seeking a “compassionate use” investigational cancer drug exemption from pharmaceutical company BioMarin to save her life. Sloan, the executive director of a non-profit that advocates for survivors of domestic violence and abuse, now finds herself forced to publicly advocate for herself in a last chance effort to get the cancer treatment she needs.

Drugs that are being tested but have not yet been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are called “investigational drugs.” These drugs are generally available only to people who are taking part in a clinical trial. The FDA “Expanded Access” protocol — sometimes referred to as a “compassionate use” exemption — involves the use of an investigational drug outside of a clinical trial to treat a patient with a serious or immediately life-threatening disease or condition, who has no comparable or satisfactory alternative treatment options.

FDA regulations allow access to investigational drugs for treatment purposes on a case-by-case basis for an individual patient, or for intermediate-size groups of patients with similar treatment needs who otherwise do not qualify to participate in a clinical trial. Before an investigational drug can qualify for compassionate use, the patient’s physician, the FDA, and the drug manufacturer must approve such use.

Unfortunately, drug manufacturers may not always be willing or able to provide access to a drug outside of their clinical trials. By law, drug companies are not required to make their drug available through the FDA expanded access protocol, or to make more of a drug for that purpose.

Andrea Sloan, a 7-year survivor of stage 3c ovarian cancer, is seeking a compassionate use exemption from pharmaceutical company BioMarin to save her life. Sloan is scheduled to start treatment at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center on September 5, and she would like to obtain access to the “PARP 1/2 inhibitor” drug known as “BMN 673” by that time. A robust grassroots campaign in support of Sloan has emerged on social media and in an effort to get an affirmative response from BioMarin.

“BioMarin’s BMN 673 offers me the best chance at a long life,” said Sloan. “My doctors and the FDA agree that I am an excellent candidate for this drug and meet the criteria for compassionate use exemption. However, BioMarin’s lack of a policy on compassionate use is preventing me from gaining access to the drug I need to save my life. I respectfully implore them to reconsider and make the ethical decision to help me.” [Emphasis added]

Sloan has endured two full rounds of chemotherapy, five surgeries, and a stem cell transplant. While her cancer remains responsive to treatment, her bone marrow can no longer tolerate traditional therapies. Her world-class oncology team at M.D. Anderson believes that BioMarin’s PARP inhibitor BMN 673, which is currently being tested in a phase I solid tumor clinical trial, is the best option for Sloan’s BRCA-1 gene-mutated form of ovarian cancer.

Unfortunately, Sloan hit a barrier in gaining access to BMN 673. Further enrollment of ovarian cancer patients in the phase I solid tumor trial is now closed, and the publicly announced portion of the trial that will be entering phase III testing is only open to BRCA gene-mutated breast (but not ovarian) cancer patients. Therefore, Sloan is left with the compassionate use exemption as her only option to access the drug she needs to fight her cancer. Based on FDA requirements, Sloan qualifies for the compassionate use exemption. Data emerging from the phase I BMN 673 study suggest that the drug is a safe and effective treatment option for patients with BRCA gene-mutated ovarian cancer.

Moreover, on August 16, 2013, BioMarin announced that its medical study abstract, entitled “PARP inhibition with BMN 673 in ovarian and breast cancer patients with deleterious mutations of BRCA1 and BRCA2,” has been selected as a “late breaking” abstract by the 17th ECCO — 38th ESMO — 32nd ESTRO European Cancer Congress, which will be held from September 27 through October 1, 2013 in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. BioMarin’s oral presentation at the European Cancer Congress (scheduled for September 29, 2013) will include data presented from 28 ovarian cancer patients with deleterious germline (inherited) BRCA gene mutations, including 17 patients from the phase I BMN 673 trial dose escalation cohort (range 100 µg to 1100 µg) and 11 patients from the dose expansion cohort. Presumably, the most recent ovarian cancer patient data to be presented at the European Cancer Congress will expand upon the positive data presented by the company at the 2013 Annual Meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, which indicate that positive RECIST (“Response Evaluation Criteria in Solid Tumors“) and/or CA-125 ovarian cancer patient responses occurred at BMN 673 drug doses ≥ 100 µg/d in 11 out of 17 (64%) BRCA gene-mutated ovarian and peritoneal cancer patients. The positive RECIST medical imaging findings and the CA-125 blood test results highlight the promising effectiveness of BMN 673, albeit among a small group of ovarian cancer patients.

BMN 673 is a targeted therapy designed to disrupt the tumor without traditional chemotherapy drug side effects, thereby making it an optimal treatment for Sloan.

Despite Sloan’s best efforts, she has been unable to convince BioMarin to allow compassionate use of BMN 673. BioMarin, according to Sloan, has not been cooperative, merely citing their lack of a policy on the issue. Sloan, the executive director of a non-profit that advocates for survivors of domestic violence and abuse, now finds herself forced to publicly advocate for herself in a last chance effort to save her life. Sloan is committed to advocating for meaningful reform on this topic and hopes BioMarin will lead by example in starting a national dialogue.

If you would like to help Andrea Sloan obtain compassionate use of BMN 673, please click on this picture and sign her petition at

If you would like to help Andrea Sloan obtain compassionate use of BMN 673, please click on this picture and sign her petition at

For those interested in supporting Andrea Sloan, please sign her petition on that urges BioMarin to grant her a compassionate use investigational cancer drug exemption for BMN 673. Also, you can follow Andrea on Twitter at @andi_sloan.


Yesterday, BioMarin issued a statement to KXAN, an Austin, Texas local affilate of NBC, in response to a in-depth news story that KXAN aired tonight regarding Andrea Sloan’s dire situation. Effectively, BioMarin rejected Andrea Sloan’s request for compassionate use of BMN 673, although its statement was worded as a general drug “expanded access” policy explanation.

BioMarin acknowledged that it allowed preapproved expanded access to one of its investigational drugs which completed phase III clinical testing last year. In terms of general guidelines for its expanded access programs, the company stated:

“We implement these [expanded access] programs when we have sufficient scientific evidence to support both the safety and the efficacy of a product for an indication. Additionally, we implement these programs only when we can ensure that access will be provided equitably, ensuring that the process is appropriately blinded, and when we are confident that the expanded access will not inhibit our clinical trial plans or clinical trials for a disease generally.”

In terms of Andrea Sloan’s specific case, BioMarin stated that it does not comment on the status of individual patients. Apparently in a refusal to grant expanded access to any preapproved patient who requests compassionate use of BMN 673 prior to completion of phase III drug testing, the company stated:

“… However, we note that, although the current data [for BMN 673] that we have looks promising, there is no data at this point to support anything beyond dosing and some preliminary safety. It is too early to know if the experimental therapy is safe or effective, or will even prolong life, until we conduct the appropriate Phase 3 trials. The data that we have is from an ongoing early stage clinical trial, and it is the first trial that we have ever done with this therapy in humans.”

Accordingly, it appears that BioMarin’s current expanded access policy for its investigational drugs, such as BMN 673, will only extend to drugs that have already completed phase III clinical trial testing.


  • Ovarian Cancer Survivor Andrea Sloan Seeks Compassionate Use Exemption From BioMarin to Save Her Life, Press Release, Digital Journal, August 29, 2013.
  • BioMarin Provides BMN 673 Program Update, BioMarin Pharmaceutical Inc, Press Release, July 25, 2013.
  • Shen Y. et al.  BMN 673, a novel and highly potent PARP-1/2 inhibitor for the treatment of human cancers with DNA repair deficiencyClin Cancer Res. 2013 Jul 23. PMID: 23881923 [Epub ahead of print]
  • A Phase 1, First in Human, Single-arm, Open-label Study of Once a Day, Orally Administered BMN 673 in Patients With Advanced or Recurrent Solid Tumors. Identifier: NCT01286987.
  • Advocate for others needs help in a fight for her life, by Shannon Wolfson & Joe Ellis, In-Depth Investigation, KXAN News, August 29, 2013.
  • BioMarin Announces Oral Presentation of BMN 673 Most Recent Data on Breast and Ovarian Cancers at the European Cancer Congress 2013, Press Release, August 16, 2013.

“Adoptive T-Cell” Immunotherapy Shows Activity Against Advanced Ovarian Cancer in Phase I Study

In a new study, researchers from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine show that a two-step personalized immunotherapy treatment — a dendritic cell vaccine using the patient’s own tumor followed by adoptive T cell therapy — triggers anti-tumor immune responses in advanced ovarian cancer patients.

Most ovarian cancer patients are diagnosed with late stage disease that is unresponsive to existing therapies. In a new study, researchers from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine show that a two-step personalized immunotherapy treatment — a dendritic cell vaccine using the patients’ own tumor followed by adoptive T cell therapy — triggers anti-tumor immune responses in these type of patients. Four of the six patients treated in the phase I trial responded to the therapy, the investigators report this month in OncoImmunology.

“What we proved in this study is that this is a safe treatment strategy,” says co-first author Lana Kandalaft, PharmD, MTR, Ph.D., research assistant professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology and director of clinical development in the Ovarian Cancer Research Center. “It is a walk in the park for patients, especially compared to standard chemotherapies and surgical treatments for ovarian cancer – literally, some patients left the clinic and went for a walk in a nearby park after their treatment.”

The findings follow research by the study’s senior author, George Coukos, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Ovarian Cancer Research Center at Penn, who showed in 2003 that women whose ovarian tumors were infiltrated by healthy immune cells, called T cells, tended to live longer than women whose tumors were devoid of T cells. That observation and other subsequent ones suggest the patient’s immune system is trying to fight off the disease but can’t quite muster the strength to beat it. Therefore, investigators have been trying to find ways using patients’ own tumor cells to boost the immune system’s power.

Adoptive T-Cell Therapy Approach


In the first segment of the study, the University of Pennsylvania researchers prepared an individualized dendritic cell vaccine for each ovarian cancer patient. (Photo Credit: Penn Medicine)

In the current study, Coukos, Kandalaft, co-first author Daniel J. Powell Jr., PhD, research assistant professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, and colleagues treated six women with advanced ovarian cancer in a two-staged immunotherapy protocol in which they utilized a dendritic cell vaccine created from tissue in the patients’ own tumor, which was stored at time of surgery. All of these women’s cancers had progressed on standard of care chemotherapy.

In the first segment of the study, the team prepared an individualized dendritic cell vaccine for each patient. They harvested dendritic cells from each patient using apheresis, the same process volunteers go through when they donate platelets or other blood products such as those collected for stem cell transplants. Kandalaft and colleagues then exposed each patient’s dendritic cells to tumor extract produced from the woman’s ovarian cancer tumor, which teaches the dendritic cells who the enemy is. After this priming, the investigators vaccinated each patient with her own dendritic cells and gave them a combination chemotherapy regimen consisting of bevacizumab (Avastin) and  metronomic cyclophosphamide. Because dendritic cells are like the generals of the immune system, they then induce other immune cells to take up the fight.

Of the six advanced ovarian cancer patients who received the dendritic cell vaccine, four patients developed an anti-tumor immune response, indicating that the approach was working. One of those patients had no measurable disease at study entry because all of it had been successfully removed during surgery. She remains in remission today, 42 months following vaccine treatment. The remaining three who had an immune response to the vaccine still had residual disease and went on to the second segment of treatment.


In the second segment of the study, T cells were harvested from the ovarian cancer patients, grown in the laboratory, thereby expanding their numbers exponentially, and then were reintroduced into each patient after she underwent a lymphodepleting chemotherapy regimen. (Photo Credit: Penn Medicine)

In the second segment of the study, the team harvested T cells from each of the three women mentioned above. Using a technique developed at Penn, the researchers grew the cells in the laboratory, expanding their numbers exponentially, and then reintroduced them into each patient after she underwent a lymphodepleting chemotherapy regimen. Because the T cells had already been trained by the dendritic cell vaccine to attack the tumor cells, the adoptive T cell transfer amplifies the anti-tumor immune response.

Two of the women showed a restored immune response after the T cell transfer. One of the women continued to have stable disease, whereas the other had a complete response to the therapy.

The researchers say it is too early to say whether this type of therapy will be effective in a large number of ovarian cancer patients, but the early results are promising. First, and foremost, she notes, the two-step approach appears safe and well tolerated by the patients. Additionally, the team saw a correlation in both treatment steps between immune responses and clinical benefit, suggesting that it is, in fact, the immune response that is holding the disease in check.

With these encouraging results in hand, the team has opened a larger trial (UPCC-19809 & UPCC-26810; clinical trial protocols listed below) in which they have already enrolled about 25 women and aim for up to 30 more. The new protocol uses an improved vaccine platform and an optimized adoptive T cell transfer protocol. The prinicipal investigator of this study is Janos Tanyi, MD, PhD.

“Large clinical trials have shown that intensifying chemotherapy doesn’t improve outcomes for women with advanced ovarian cancer,” Coukos says. “So we need to explore other avenues. We think the combinatorial approach of both immune and chemotherapy is the way to go.”

Other co-authors from Penn include Cheryl L. Chiang, Janos Tanyi, Sarah Kim, Kathy Montone, Rosemarie Mick, Bruce L. Levine, Drew A. Torigian, and Carl H. June. Co-author Marnix Bosch is from Northwest Biotherapeutics in Bethesda, Maryland.

This study was supported by National Cancer Institute Ovarian SPORE grant P01-CA83638, National Institution of Health R01FD003520-02, and the Ovarian Cancer Immunotherapy Initiative. 


Penn Medicine is one of the world’s leading academic medical centers, dedicated to the related missions of medical education, biomedical research, and excellence in patient care. Penn Medicine consists of the Raymond and Ruth Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania (founded in 1765 as the nation’s first medical school) and the University of Pennsylvania Health System, which together form a $4.3 billion enterprise.

The Perelman School of Medicine is currently ranked #2 in U.S. News & World Report’s survey of research-oriented medical schools. The School is consistently among the nation’s top recipients of funding from the National Institutes of Health, with $479.3 million awarded in the 2011 fiscal year.

The University of Pennsylvania Health System’s patient care facilities include: The Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania — recognized as one of the nation’s top “Honor Roll” hospitals by U.S. News & World Report; Penn Presbyterian Medical Center; and Pennsylvania Hospital — the nation’s first hospital, founded in 1751. Penn Medicine also includes additional patient care facilities and services throughout the Philadelphia region.

Penn Medicine is committed to improving lives and health through a variety of community-based programs and activities. In fiscal year 2011, Penn Medicine provided $854 million to benefit our community.



Kandalaft L, Powell D, Chiang C, et. al. Autologous lysate-pulsed dendritic cell vaccination followed by adoptive transfer of vaccine-primed ex vivo co-stimulated T cells in recurrent ovarian cancer. OncoImmunology 2013; 2:e22664;

Two-Step Immunotherapy Attacks Advanced Ovarian Cancer, Penn Medicine Researchers Report, Penn Medicine, Press Release, January 31, 2013.

Closed Clinical Trial Protocols (two study segments discussed above):

Study Segment One: A Phase I Clinical Trial of Autologous Dendritic Cell Vaccine Loaded With Autologous Tumor Cell Lysate for Recurrent Ovarian or Primary Peritoneal Cancer; Identifier: NCT00683241; UPCC ID: 11807.

Study Segment Two: A Phase-I/II Randomized Trial of Maintenance Vaccination Combined With Metronomic Cyclophosphamide w/wo Adoptive Transfer of CD3/CD28-CoStimulated T-Cells for Recurrent Ovarian or Primary Peritoneal Cancer Previously Vaccinated DCVax-L; Identifier: NCT00603460; UPCC ID: 10808

Open Clinical Trial Protocols (enrolling new patients, as of this writing):

A Pilot Clinical Trial of Dendritic Cell Vaccine Loaded With Autologous Tumor for Recurrent Ovarian, Primary Peritoneal or Fallopian Tube Cancer; ID: NCT01132014;  UPCC ID: 19809. [currently recruiting patients]

A Phase-1 Trial of Adoptive Transfer of Vaccine-Primed CD3/CD28-Costimulated Autologous T-Cells Combined With Vaccine Boost and Bevacizumab for Recurrent Ovarian Fallopian Tube or Primary Peritoneal Cancer Previously Vaccinated With Autologous Tumor Vaccine; ID: NCT01312376;  UPCC ID: 26810. [currently recruiting patients]

Related Libby’s H*O*P*E* Articles:

Gene Transfer Therapy Destroys Tumors in Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia Patients; Holds Promise For Ovarian Cancer, by Paul Cacciatore, August 11, 2011.

Penn’s Genetically Modified T Cells Create Antitumor Effect In Mice With Folate Positive Ovarian Cancer; Clinical Trial Pending, by Paul Cacciatore, August 17, 2011.

ENMD-2076 Monotherapy Demonstrates Anti-Cancer Activity in Recurrent, Platinum-Resistant Ovarian Clear Cell Carcinoma

An Aurora A/angiogenic kinase inhibitor named “ENMD-2076” demonstrated anti-cancer activity in recurrent, platinum-resistant epithelial ovarian cancer patients, including three patients with a difficult-to-treat subtype of the disease referred to as “clear cell carcinoma.”

An Aurora A/angiogenic kinase inhibitor named “ENMD-2076” demonstrated anti-cancer activity in recurrent, platinum-resistant epithelial ovarian cancer patients, including three patients with a difficult-to-treat subtype of the disease referred to as “clear cell carcinoma.” The trial drug results were reported in connection with a phase II clinical trial testing of ENMD-2076. The findings associated with ENMD-2076 were published in the January 2013 edition of the European Journal of Cancer.

ENMD-2076 is an orally-active, Aurora A/angiogenic kinase inhibitor with a unique kinase selectivity profile and multiple mechanisms of action. ENMD-2076 has been shown to inhibit a distinct profile of angiogenic tyrosine kinase targets in addition to the Aurora A kinase. Aurora kinases are key regulators of mitosis (cell division), and are often over-expressed in human cancers. ENMD-2076 also targets the VEGFR, Flt-3 and FGFR3 kinases which have been shown to play important roles in the pathology of several cancers.

The phase II trial was an open-label, single-arm Phase II study of single agent ENMD-2076 taken daily (orally). The study enrolled 64 patients, and the progression-free survival (PFS) rate at 6 months was 22%, with a median time-to-progression of 3.6 months. The median number of prior treatment regimens per patient was two. The most common adverse events were fatigue, hypertension and diarrhea, with the most significant events being hypertension and fatigue. Unfortunately, none of the markers of mitotic index or angiogenesis evaluated in the archival tissue samples obtained were predictive of greater benefit or resistance to ENMD-2076 treatment.

Based on the foregoing results, the clinical investigators concluded that ENMD-2076 possesses anti-cancer activity in recurrent, platinum-resistant ovarian cancer, and they observed  toxicities were similar to other protein kinase inhibitors. The clinical investigators also noted that additional studies with ENMD-2076 are warranted, especially in combination with active chemotherapeutic agents in platinum-resistant patients. The investigators added that further work to determine appropriate biomarkers for ENMD-2076 should be incorporated into new clinical studies.

The co-authors of the article include clinical investigators from the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, Indiana University Simon Cancer Center, University of Colorado, and University of Chicago in the U.S., as well as the Princess Margaret Hospital and Campbell Family Institute for Cancer Research in Toronto, Canada.

Ursula Matulonis, M.D., Medical Director, Gynecologic Oncology, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute

Ursula A. Matulonis, M.D., Medical Director, Gynecologic Oncology, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute

Lead study author Dr. Ursula A. Matulonis, who is the medical director of Gynecologic Oncology at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, commented on the publication as follows:

Epithelial ovarian cancer represents the 4th leading cause of cancer deaths among women in the United States. There is unmet medical needs to develop new drugs with fewer side effects and/or better efficacy to improve the quality and duration of life of the patients, especially those whose cancer is resistant to platinum treatment.

ENMD-2076 is a novel small molecule kinase inhibitor with unique combination of mechanisms of action that involve inhibition of several pathways key to tumor growth and survival including angiogenesis, proliferation, and the cell cycle. Based on pre-clinical and Phase 1 clinical studies of ENMD-2076, we believed that the drug candidate may play a role in fitting some of the unmet medical needs. This Phase 2 trial further demonstrates the anti-cancer activity of ENMD-2076 in yet a difficult to treat patient population of platinum-resistant ovarian cancer with tolerable side effects.”

Notably, Dr. Matulonis also commented on the anti-cancer activity of ENMD-2076 in three ovarian clear cell carcinoma patients as follows:

ENMD-2076 also showed anti-cancer activities in patients with clear cell carcinoma [CCC], a histological subtype considered as chemo-resistant. Two of three [CCC] patients recruited had longer PFS than the median with one patient in stable disease for over two years. As recent reports suggest VEGF is frequently expressed in clear cell cancers, this subtype might be particularly responsive to therapies that incorporate VEGF inhibition. Further clinical evaluations of ENMD-2076 may therefore be warranted in this patient subset either as a single agent or in combinations.” [emphasis added]

Ken Ren, Ph.D., EntreMed’s Chief Executive Officer, further commented:

We are very pleased and honored to have this Phase 2 trial data published in such an esteemed journal. This is a further endorsement of the global medical and science community on the clinical and scientific value of ENMD-2076 in ovarian cancer treatment. We truly believe that ENMD-2076 may potentially offer unique and competitive advantages for unmet medical needs in such difficult to treat oncology indications including platinum-resistant and/or clear cell ovarian cancer in improving the patients’ quality and duration of life. We are committed to the global clinical development of ENMD-2076 for cancer patients who might benefit from its therapy. With the support of clinical investigators like Dr. Matulonis, their commitment and dedication, and the support from our long term shareholders, we are confident that we can achieve our goal.”

About EntreMed

EntreMed, Inc. is a clinical-stage pharmaceutical company employing a drug development strategy primarily in the United States and China to develop targeted therapeutics for the global market. Its lead compound, ENMD-2076, a selective angiogenic kinase inhibitor, has completed several Phase 1 studies in solid tumors, multiple myeloma, and leukemia, and is currently completing a multi-center Phase 2 study in ovarian cancer. EntreMed, Inc. recently initiated a dual-institutional Phase 2 study of ENMD-2076 in triple-negative breast cancer. Additional information about EntreMed is available on the Company’s web site at

About ENMD-2076

ENMD-2076 is an orally-active, Aurora A/angiogenic kinase inhibitor with a unique kinase selectivity profile and multiple mechanisms of action. ENMD-2076 has been shown to inhibit a distinct profile of angiogenic tyrosine kinase targets in addition to the Aurora A kinase. Aurora kinases are key regulators of mitosis (cell division), and are often over-expressed in human cancers. ENMD-2076 also targets the VEGFR, Flt-3 and FGFR3 kinases which have been shown to play important roles in the pathology of several cancers. ENMD-2076 has shown promising activity in Phase 1 clinical trials in solid tumor cancers, leukemia, and multiple myeloma. ENMD-2076 is currently completing a Phase 2 trial for ovarian cancer. EntreMed, Inc. recently initiated a dual-institutional Phase 2 study of ENMD-2076 in triple-negative breast cancer.

ENMD-2076 received orphan drug designation from the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of ovarian cancer, multiple myeloma and acute myeloid leukemia (AML). In the United States, the Orphan Drug Act is intended to encourage companies to develop therapies for the treatment of diseases that affect fewer than 200,000 people in this country. Orphan drug designation provides seven years of market exclusivity that begins once ENMD-2076 receives FDA marketing approval. It also provides certain financial incentives that can help support the development of ENMD-2076.


Matulonis UA, Lee J, Lasonde B, et. al. ENMD-2076, an oral inhibitor of angiogenic and proliferation kinases, has activity in recurrent, platinum resistant ovarian cancer. Eur J Cancer. 2013 Jan;49(1):121-31.doi:10.1016/j.ejca.2012.07.020. PubMed PMID: 22921155.

Additional Source:

Dana-Farber Cancer Institute’s Ursula A. Matulonis, M.D. Article on EntreMed’s ENMD-2076 Published in the European Journal of Cancer, EntreMed, Inc. Press Release, Sept. 6, 2012.

ENMD-2076 Phase II Ovarian Cancer Clinical Trial Protocol Summary:

A Phase 2 Study of Oral ENMD-2076 Administered to Patients With Platinum Resistant Ovarian Cancer, Identifier: NCT01104675 (study ongoing, but not recruiting patients).