2011 ASCO: Additional Phase III Study Data Support the Potential Role of Avastin in Newly-Diagnosed & Recurrent Ovarian Cancer

Positive results from two bevacizumab (Avastin®) phase III clinical studies were presented at the 2011 American Society of Clinical Oncology Annual Meeting on June 4. The data reported add to the growing body of evidence in support of bevacizumab use to treat recurrent and newly-diagnosed ovarian cancer.

Positive results from two bevacizumab (Avastin®) phase III clinical studies were presented at the 2011 American Society of Clinical Oncology Annual Meeting on June 4. The data reported add to the growing body of evidence in support of bevacizumab use to treat recurrent and newly-diagnosed ovarian cancer.

About Bevacizumab (Avastin®)

A diagram illustrating the role of the VEGF protein in the formation of new blood vessels that support tumor growth. Click on the picture above to view a video regarding the mechanism of action with respect to bevacizumab (Avastin®). (Photo: Genentech)

Angiogenesis” refers to the process of new blood vessel formation. When tissues need more oxygen, they release molecules that encourage blood vessel growth. Angiogenesis is a normal and vital process in human growth and development, as well as in wound healing. Unfortunately, cancer tumors also utilize this same process to enhance their own blood supply in order to nourish their aberrant growth.

Ovarian cancer is associated with high concentrations of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), a protein associated with tumor growth and spread. Studies have shown a correlation between a high concentration of VEGF and ascites  (excess fluid in the body cavity) development, disease worsening, and a poorer prognosis in women with ovarian cancer.[1-2]

Bevacizumab is a humanized monoclonal antibody designed to specifically bind to the VEGF protein, which plays an important role throughout the lifecycle of the tumor to develop and maintain blood vessels through angiogenesis. The drug interferes with the tumor blood supply by directly binding to the VEGF protein to prevent interactions with receptors on blood vessel cells. The tumor blood supply is thought to be critical to a tumor’s ability to grow and spread in the body (metastasize).

Bevacizumab is the first U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved therapy designed to inhibit angiogenesis. Although FDA-approved for several forms of cancer, bevacizumab is not yet approved for the treatment of ovarian cancer. Patients treated with bevacizumab may experience side effects. In past clinical trials, some people treated with bevacizumab experienced serious and sometimes fatal side effects, related to gastrointestinal (GI) perforation, surgery and wound healing, and severe bleeding. For more information, review the Avastin BOXED WARNINGS and Additional Important Safety Information.

OCEANS Phase III Clinical Study: Women with Recurrent Platinum Sensitive Ovarian Cancer Experience 78% Response Rate & 52% Reduction In Disease Progression Risk

  • About the OCEANS Study

“OCEANS” is a multicenter, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled Phase III study in 484 women with platinum drug-sensitive recurrent ovarian, primary peritoneal or fallopian tube cancer.[3] Women in the OCEANS study received no more than one treatment regimen prior to study enrollment.  The OCEANS study randomized enrolled women to one of two clinical study arms:

Arm A: Intravenous carboplatin (area under the curve (AUC) 4; Day 1) + gemcitabine  (1,000 mg/m2; Day 1 & 8; brand name: Gemzar®) + placebo (Day 1) every 21 days x 6 cycles, followed by placebo maintenance every 21 days, until disease progression or unacceptable toxicity occurred.

Arm B: Carboplatin + gemcitabine + bevacizumab (15 mg/kg; Day 1) every 21 days x 6 cycles, followed by single agent bevacizumab maintenance every 21 days, until disease progression or unacceptable toxicity occurred.

The primary endpoint of the OCEANS study was progression free survival. The secondary endpoints of the study included overall survival, objective response, duration of response and safety profile.

  • OCEANS Study Data

Carol Aghajanian, M.D. speaks during the Oral Abstract Session: Gynecologic Cancer at the American Society of Clinical Oncology Annual Meeting on Saturday June 4, 2011. (Photo: ASCO/GMG/Silas Crews 2011)

Carol Aghajanian, M.D., chief of the gynecologic medical oncology service at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, presented the data from the OCEANS study comparing efficacy and safety of chemotherapy and antiangiogenic therapy in platinum drug-sensitive recurrent ovarian cancer.

Two hundred forty-two women were allocated to each study arm and the median follow-up period was 24 months. Patient characteristics were well-matched in the two treatment groups with regard to age (median age ~60), race (~91% white), performance status (~75%, PS = 0), histologic subtype (~80% serous), cytoreductive surgery (~11%), and platinum-free interval (defined as the time between finishing front-line platinum-based therapy and starting second-line chemotherapy) of more than 12 months (~60%). The study stratification variables were platinum-free interval (6 to 12 months vs. more than 12) and cytoreductive surgery for recurrent disease (yes vs. no).

The median number of chemotherapy cycles was six for each group, and a median of 11 cycles of bevacizumab or placebo was given. At least one-third of the patients received more than six cycles of carboplatin and gemcitabine, although slightly more of the placebo-treated group continued chemotherapy beyond six cycles.

Progression-free survival was significantly longer for women given bevacizumab (12.4 months vs. 8.4 months in the placebo-treated group (hazard ratio [HR]: 0.484; 95% confidence interval (CI) [0.388, 0.605]; p < 0.0001). These results were corroborated by the analyses of an independent review committee. Analyses according to platinum-free interval, cytoreductive surgery, age, and baseline performance status indicate a consistent benefit in all subgroups.

Objective response rate increased by 21.1% (p < 0.0001), from 57.4% in the placebo group to 78.5% in the bevacizumab treated group; duration of response increased from a median of 7.4 months to 10.4 months, respectively (HR: 0.534; 95% CI [0.408, 0.698]; p < 0.0001). Overall survival data are still premature, with median survival of 29.9 months in the placebo group and 35.5 months in the bevacizumab treatment group.

Sixty-five percent of the patients in the placebo group were withdrawn from the protocol due to disease progression, compared with only 41% of the treatment group, but 23% of the discontinuations in the bevacizumab group were due to adverse events, compared with only 5% in the placebo group. Much of this increase was due to grade 3 (or worse) adverse events; specifically hypertension and proteinuria associated with bevacizumab therapy. Overall, the safety profile of bevacizumab was consistent with past trials.

  • OCEANS Study Commentary

Dr. Aghajanian concluded that the OCEANS study results demonstrate a statistically significant and clinically relevant benefit when bevacizumab is added to carboplatin and gemcitabine. Aghajanian stated that this regimen should be considered a new option for the treatment of recurrent, platinum drug-sensitive ovarian cancer. As expected, the rate of adverse events was higher among patients who received bevacizumab, explained Dr. Aghajanian. “Hypertension and proteinuria were increased, but febrile neutropenia was the same in both arms.” “The safety data are reassuring and consistent with the known bevacizumab side-effect profile, and there were no new safety signals,” said Dr. Aghajanian.

“In advanced ovarian cancer, just as in advanced breast cancer, there is often an opportunity to intervene with different lines of chemotherapy,” said Andrew Seidman, M.D., attending physician for the breast cancer medicine service at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and professor of medicine at Weill Medical College of Cornell University. “There are many chapters in the story, so to speak,” said Dr. Seidman, who moderated a press briefing held in advance of the presentation. “We want to prolong each and every chapter in the disease, and make the story longer and ultimately improve survival. These trials results are certainly an important step in that direction.”

“Women with recurrent ovarian cancer need new treatment options, and it is therefore an important advance to halve the risk of disease progression in this incurable cancer,” said Hal Barron, M.D., chief medical officer and head of Roche Holdings Global Product Development. “These data add to the growing body of evidence supporting Avastin’s potential role in this disease, which includes two previously presented Phase III clinical trials [Gynecologic Oncology Group (GOG)-218 [4] & ICON7] in women with newly diagnosed ovarian cancer.”

In his discussion of the study, Anil K. Sood, M.D., professor and director of the Blanton-Davis Ovarian Cancer Research Program in the Departments of Gynecologic Oncology and Cancer Biology at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, suggested that further understanding of the timing and dosing of bevacizumab should be pursued in light of (i) its great financial cost, and (ii) reports that inhibition of angiogenesis in animal models reduces primary cancer tumor growth, but accelerates invasion and metastasis — unintended consequences that might be linked to the failure of bevacizumab to extend overall survival in most clinical trials.

ICON7 Phase III Clinical Study:  Newly-Diagnosed Women with High-Risk Ovarian Cancer Experience 36% Reduction in Risk of Death

Gunnar Kristensen M.D., Ph.D. speaks during the Women's Cancers Press Briefing at the American Society of Clinical Oncology Annual Meeting on June 4, 2011. (Photo: ASCO/GMG/Scott Morgan 2011)

ICON7 was designed to investigate safety and efficacy of adding bevacizumab to standard chemotherapy in women with newly diagnosed ovarian cancer. [5] Gunnar Kristensen, M.D, Ph.D., senior consultant in the Department for Gynecologic Oncology of the Norwegian Radium Hospital located in Oslo, reported the Phase III clinical study results.

  • About the ICON7 Study

From December 2006 to February 2009, 1,528 women were randomized from 263 centers in 7 Gynecologic Cancer InterGroups. Eligible women with high-risk early FIGO (Federation of International Gynecology and Obstetrics) stage I or IIa (grade 3 or clear cell histology), capped ≤10%) or advanced (stage IIb-IV) epithelial ovarian, primary peritoneal or fallopian tube cancer were randomizsed (1:1) to one of two study arms:

Arm A: 6 cycles of 3 weekly chemotherapy (carboplatin AUC 5 or 6 and paclitaxel 175mg/m2) alone;  or

Arm B: Same chemotherapy as in Arm A, given concurrently with bevacizumab (7.5mg/kg) for 5 or 6 cycles, followed by continued 3-weekly single-agent bevacizumab maintenance therapy for 12 additional cycles (up to 12 months) or until disease progression (whichever event occurs first).

The baseline patient characteristics were balanced between both study arms: median age (57 years); ECOG Performance Status 0-1 (47%); high-risk early-stage disease (9%); poor prognosis patients (30%); histology (69% serous, 8% endometrioid, 8% clear cell).

  • Updated ICON7 Progression Free Survival Data

Data from the ICON7 study were presented for the first time at the 2010 European Society of Medical Oncology (ESMO) Congress. As reported at ESMO, chemotherapy-naïve ovarian cancer patients who received bevacizumab in combination with standard chemotherapy, and then continued with single agent bevacizumab maintenance therapy, experienced approximately 27% improvement (18.3 months versus 16 months) in the likelihood of living longer without the disease worsening (i.e., progression-free survival) compared to those women who received only chemotherapy (hazard ratio = 0.79, p=<0.0010), which corresponds to a 21% reduction in risk of cancer progression or death. The ICON7 data presented at ESMO was based upon mature progression-free survival results.

The updated ICON7 progression-free survival data presented at the ASCO annual meeting were consistent with the data reported last year at ESMO. In the updated analysis, women assigned to the bevacizumab arm experienced longer progression-free survival than those in the control group (19.8 months vs 17.4 months; HR, 0.87; p =.039). “There is a substantial prolongation of time to progression,” said Dr. Kristensen, adding that the gain was 2.4 months.

  • ICON7 Overall Survival Data Immature; But Clear Benefit To Women With “Poor Prognosis.” 

At a median follow-up of 28 months, there were fewer deaths among women who received bevacizumab than among those who received standard chemotherapy (178 vs 200). Although this represents a 15% overall reduction in mortality risk, the difference did not reach statistical significance (hazard ratio [HR], 0.85; P = .11). The final analyses for overall survival will be performed when 715 patient deaths have occurred. The current analysis was conducted because an interim analysis with at least 365 deaths was requested by the FDA and the European Medicines Agency for licensing consideration.

Although the overall survival data is not mature, a subgroup analysis of women with a “poor prognosis” (defined as FIGO stage III patients debulked to >1.0cm of visible diease or FIGO stage IV with debulking) was performed. Within this subgroup, there were 79 deaths within the bevacizumab arm and 109 deaths in the control arm. Based on this data, there was a 36% reduction in the risk of death (HR=0.64, 95% CI=0.48 to 0.85, p=0.0022 with p=0.015 for test for interaction (treatment/risk group)) among the poor prognosis subgroup.  This result was statistically significant. “We have previously shown that [the high-risk] group has a greater benefit from bevacizumab than the other patients,” said Dr. Kristensen. “For this group, there is a very clear gain for overall survival.”

  • ICON7 Study Commentary

“We conclude that the addition of concurrent and continued bevacizumab for 12 months does improve progression-free survival,” said Dr. Kristensen.  Kristensen also noted that, on the basis of an interim analysis involving approximately 53% of the number of deaths needed for the final analysis, there is an overall trend for improvement in overall survival.

“In this study, we see the ability of antiangiogenic therapy to delay the progression of ovarian cancer, this time in the first-line setting,” said Andrew Seidman, M.D. He added that previous studies have demonstrated the efficacy of bevacizumab in ovarian cancer. “These lend support to a potential role for bevacizumab as the first biologic agent to be used in this disease,” said Seidman, who moderated a press briefing during which study highlights were presented.

There are many strengths in a study like this, in that it addresses questions about the role of anti-VEGF therapies in this setting, said Anil Sood, M.D., who served as a discussant for this paper. “The randomized design is obviously a major strength.”

However, there are potential issues to examine, explained Dr. Sood. “One is the role of bevacizumab in the combination setting, compared with the maintenance setting.”

“How useful is bevacizumab in the combination setting up front? Is the real role for bevacizumab in the maintenance setting following initial chemotherapy,” he asked.

The issue of bevacizumab dosing was also raised by Dr. Sood. “One of the questions is whether higher doses are needed,” he said. “There are data emerging from other studies showing that lower doses are as efficacious, if not more so.”

References:

1/Rudlowski C, Pickart AK, Fuhljahn C, et. al. Prognostic significance of vascular endothelial growth factor expression in ovarian cancer patients: a long-term follow-up. Int J Gynecol Cancer. 2006 Jan-Feb;16 Suppl 1:183-9. PubMed PMID: 16515588.

2/Cooper BC, Ritchie JM, Broghammer CL, et. al. Preoperative serum vascular endothelial growth factor levels: significance in ovarian cancer. Clin Cancer Res. 2002 Oct;8(10):3193-7.  PMID: 12374688

3/Aghajanian C, Finkler NJ, Rutherford T, et. alOCEANS: A randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled phase III trial of chemotherapy with or without bevacizumab (BEV) in patients with platinum-sensitive recurrent epithelial ovarian (EOC), primary peritoneal (PPC), or fallopian tube cancer (FTC)J Clin Oncol 29: 2011 (suppl; abstr LBA5007)[2011 American Society of Clinical Oncology Annual Meeting].

4/ Burger RA, Brady MF, Bookman MA, et. alPhase III trial of bevacizumab in the primary treatment of advanced epithelial ovarian cancer (EOC), primary peritoneal cancer (PPC), or fallopian tube cancer (FTC): a Gynecologic Oncology Group study [GOG 218 Abstract]J Clin Oncol 28:18s, 2010 (suppl; abstr LBA1).

5/Kristensen G, Perren T, Qian W., et. alResult of interim analysis of overall survival in the GCIG ICON7 phase III randomized trial of bevacizumab in women with newly diagnosed ovarian cancerJ Clin Oncol 29: 2011 (suppl; abstr LBA5006) [2011 American Society of Clinical Oncology Annual Meeting].

Additional Sources & Helpful Information:

Bevacizumab (Avastin®) Clinical Trial Information

Related WORD of HOPE Ovarian Cancer Podcast™

Related Libby’s H*O*P*E*™ Postings

Related Libby’s H*O*P*E*™ Videos

  • To view videos regarding bevacizumab (Avastin®), click here.


M.D. Anderson’s EphA2-Targeted Therapy Delivers Chemo Directly to Ovarian Cancer Cells

With a novel therapeutic delivery system, a research team led by scientists at The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center has successfully targeted a protein that is over-expressed in ovarian cancer cells. Using the EphA2 protein as a molecular homing mechanism, chemotherapy was delivered in a highly selective manner in preclinical models of ovarian cancer, the researchers report in the July 29 issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. … In the models, the therapy inhibited tumor growth in treated mice by 85 percent – 98 percent compared to control mice. … [Anil] Sood said, “We are gearing up to bring it to phase I clinical trials. A lot of the safety studies are well under way or nearing completion and we anticipate that this drug will enter clinical trials within the next few months.”

M. D. Anderson-led team finds potent antitumor activity with a monoclonal antibody-chemotherapy combination

With a novel therapeutic delivery system, a research team led by scientists at The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center has successfully targeted a protein that is over-expressed in ovarian cancer cells. Using the EphA2 protein as a molecular homing mechanism, chemotherapy was delivered in a highly selective manner in preclinical models of ovarian cancer, the researchers report in the July 29 issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

EphA2 is attractive for such molecularly targeted therapy because it has increased expression in ovarian and other cancers, including breast, colon, prostate and non-small cell lung cancers and in aggressive melanomas, and its expression has been associated with a poor prognosis.

Anil K. Sood, M.D., professor and in the Departments of Gynecologic Oncology and Cancer Biology at the Univ. of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center

Anil K. Sood, M.D., professor in the Departments of Gynecologic Oncology and Cancer Biology at the Univ. of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center

“One of our goals has been to develop more specific ways to deliver chemotherapeutic drugs,” said senior author Anil K. Sood, M.D., professor and in the Departments of Gynecologic Oncology and Cancer Biology at M. D. Anderson. “Over the last several years we have shown that EphA2 is a target that is present quite frequently in ovarian and other cancers, but is either present in low levels or is virtually absent from most normal adult tissues. EphA2’s preferential presence on tumor cells makes it an attractive therapeutic target.”

The researchers used a carrier system to deliver chemotherapy directly to ovarian cancer cells. The immunoconjugate contains an anti-EphA2 monoclonal antibody linked to the chemotherapy drug monomethyl auristatin phenylalanine (MMAF) through the non-cleavable linker maleimidocaproyl. Research has shown that auristatins induce cell cycle arrest at the G – M border, disrupt microtubules and induce apoptosis (programmed cell death) in cancer cells.

The investigators evaluated the delivery system’s specificity in EphA2-positive HeyA8 and EphA2-negative SKMel28 ovarian cancer cells through antibody-binding and internalization assays. They also assessed viability and apoptosis in ovarian cancer cell lines and tumor models and examined anti-tumor activity in orthotopic mouse models with mice bearing HeyA8-luc and SKOV3ip1 ovarian tumors.

According to Sood, who is also co-director of both the Center for RNA Interference and Non-Coding RNA and the Blanton-Davis Ovarian Cancer Research Program at M. D. Anderson, the immunoconjugate was highly specific in delivering MMAF to the tumor cells that expressed EphA2 while showing minimal uptake in cells that did not express the protein. In the models, the therapy inhibited tumor growth in treated mice by 85 percent – 98 percent compared to control mice.

“Once we optimized the dosing regimen, the drug was highly effective in reducing tumor growth and in prolonging survival in preclinical animal models,” Sood said. “We actually studied bulkier masses because that is what one would see in a clinical setting where there are pre-existent tumors, and even in this setting the drug was able to reduce or shrink the tumors.”

As for future research with the EphA2-silencing therapy, Sood said, “We are gearing up to bring it to phase I clinical trials. A lot of the safety studies are well under way or nearing completion and we anticipate that this drug will enter clinical trials within the next few months.”

He added that his group is simultaneously conducting preclinical testing on other chemotherapy drugs to determine which agents might combine well with the immunoconjugate used in the current study.

“There is growing interest in molecularly targeted therapy so that we are not indiscriminately killing normal cells,” Sood noted. “The goal is to make the delivery of chemotherapy more specific. The immunoconjugate we used is in a class of drugs that is certainly quite attractive from that perspective.”

Research was funded by NCI-DHHS-NIH T32 Training Grant (T32 CA101642 to A.M.N.). This research was funded in part by support from M. D. Anderson’s ovarian cancer SPORE grant (P50 CA083639), the Marcus Foundation, the Gynecologic Cancer Foundation, the Entertainment Industry Foundation, the Blanton-Davis Ovarian Cancer Research Program, and Sood’s Betty Ann Asche Murray Distinguished Professorship.

Co-authors with Sood are Jeong-Won Lee, Hee Dong Han, Mian M. K. Shahzad, Seung Wook Kim, Lingegowda S. Mangala, Alpa M. Nick, Chunhua Lu, Rosemarie Schmandt, Hye-Sun Kim, Charles N. Landen, Robert L. Coleman, all of M. D. Anderson’s Department of Gynecologic Oncology; Robert R. Langley, of M. D. Anderson’s Department of Cancer Biology; Jeong-Won Lee, also of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Samsung Medical Center, Sungkyunkwan University School of Medicine, Seoul, Korea; Mian M. K. Shahzad, also of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas; Hye-Sun Kim, also of the Department of Pathology, Cheil General Hospital and Women’s Healthcare Center, Kwandong University College of Medicine, Seoul, Korea; and Shenlan Mao, John Gooya, Christine Fazenbaker, Dowdy Jackson, and David Tice , all of MedImmune, Inc., Gaithersburg, Maryland.

Source: EphA2-Targeted Therapy Delivers Chemo Directly to Ovarian Cancer Cells – M. D. Anderson-led team finds potent antitumor activity with a monoclonal antibody-chemotherapy combination, M.D. Anderson News Release, 29 Jul. 09 [summarizing the findings of Lee JW, Han HD, Shahzad MM et. al. EphA2 Immunoconjugate as Molecularly Targeted Chemotherapy for Ovarian Carcinoma. J Natl Cancer Inst. 2009 Jul 29. [Epub ahead of print]].

M.D. Anderson Identifies TG2 As a Potential Target in Chemo-Resistant Ovarian Cancer

“Scientists from The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center have found overexpression of tissue type transglutaminase (TG2) in ovarian cancer is associated with increased tumor cell growth and adhesion, resistance to chemotherapy and lower overall survival rates. When researchers targeted and silenced TG2 in animal models, cancer progression was reversed, suggesting the protein may also provide a novel therapeutic approach for late-stage ovarian cancer.”

“Scientists from The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center have found overexpression of tissue type transglutaminase (TG2) in ovarian cancer is associated with increased tumor cell growth and adhesion, resistance to chemotherapy and lower overall survival rates. When researchers targeted and silenced TG2 in animal models, cancer progression was reversed, suggesting the protein may also provide a novel therapeutic approach for late-stage ovarian cancer.

These findings in the July 15th issue of Cancer Research by a team of researchers led by Anil K. Sood, M.D., professor in the Departments of Gynecologic Oncology and Cancer Biology, and Kapil Mehta, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Experimental Therapeutics at M. D. Anderson, are among the first to explore TG2’s functionality in ovarian cancer.

‘TG2 appears to fuel different types of cancer through multiple molecular pathways, making it an important therapeutic target,’ said Mehta, whose lab also has connected TG2 overexpression to drug-resistant and metastatic melanoma, breast cancer and pancreatic cancer.

‘Drug resistance and metastasis are major impediments to the successful treatment of ovarian cancer and until now we had little information about the role TG2 played in ovarian cancer,’ Sood said. ‘We began to see its story unfold as we translated this data from tissue samples to cell lines to animal models.’

The American Cancer Society estimates 15,000 U.S. women will die from ovarian cancer this year. Most patients present with advanced stage disease that has spread beyond the primary tumor site. More than 70 percent of ovarian cancer patients will suffer a recurrence and eventually succumb to the disease.

Higher TG2, lower survival

The study, which examined 93 ovarian cancer samples of ranging stages, found that high levels of TG2 corresponded with significantly lower patient survival than those with low levels of TG2. Sixty-nine percent of high-stage ovarian cancers overexpressed TG2 compared with 30 percent of low-stage cancers. In-depth analysis demonstrated that tumors which overexpressed the protein tended to have an increased ability to invade healthy tissue and to survive or avoid the affects of chemotherapy.

‘From this investigation it became clear that TG2 activates the survival pathway p13K/Akt in these tumors, explaining the adverse, resistant behavior we observed on a molecular level,’ said Sood. ‘We then focused on whether silencing TG2 would block these effects.’

Researchers shut off TG2 with a small interfering RNA strand (TG2 siRNA) targeted to the protein, reducing the ability of the tumor cells to invade and killing them through programmed cell death, or apoptosis. ‘When exposed to this potent targeted therapy, ovarian cancer cells greatly reduced cancer cell proliferation and blood vessel development, while increasing apoptosis,’ said Sood.

Mouse model studies of chemotherapy-sensitive and chemotherapy-resistant models showed considerable antitumor activity both with TG2 siRNA alone and in combination with docetaxel chemotherapy. The combination therapy of TG2 siRNA with docetaxel reduced tumor weight by 86 percent, proving to have the greatest efficacy compared to control groups or those without chemotherapy.

‘While it remains to be seen if these results will translate in humans, looking ahead long term, it will be an attractive option against advanced ovarian cancer,’ said co-author Gabriel Lopez-Berestein, M.D. professor in the Department of Experimental Therapeutics at M. D. Anderson.

TG2 fuels pancreatic cancer differently

Sood and Lopez-Berestein, have developed siRNA therapy by packaging the gene-silencing strips of RNA in a fatty nanoparticle called a liposome and delivering it intravenously. TG2 is the third protein they have targeted in preclinical research. Sood and Mehta are moving TG2 siRNA toward Phase I clinical trials for ovarian and pancreatic cancers.

TG2 acts through different pathways in other types of cancer, Mehta noted. For example, TG2 overexpression causes the degradation of the tumor-suppressing protein PTEN in pancreatic cancer, Mehta and colleagues reported in Clinical Cancer Research in April. With PTEN out of the picture, pancreatic cancer is protected from a separate type of cell death called autophagy. In a separate paper, they showed that silencing TG2 with the siRNA liposome reduced tumor size, slowed metastasis and enhanced the effect of gemcitabine chemotherapy.

‘This aberrant protein is doing so many different things, you would have to develop a small-molecule drug to block each function,’ Mehta said. ‘Liposomal siRNA is exciting because it takes out TG2 completely, blocking everything that it does.’

Research was funded by grants from the National Cancer Institute, including M. D. Anderson’s Specialized Program in Research Excellence in Ovarian Cancer grant, a program project development grant from the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund, Inc., and the Zarrow Foundation.

In addition to Sood, Mehta and Lopez-Berestein, authors include Jee Young Hwang, M.D., Lingegowda S. Mangala, Ph.D., co-first authors, and Yvonne G. Lin, M.D., William M. Merritt, M.D., Whitney A. Spannuth, M.D., Alpa M. Nick, M.D., Derek J. Fiterman, M.D., and Robert L. Coleman, M.D., all of M. D. Anderson’s Department of Gynecologic Oncology; Jansina Y. Fok, also a co-first author, and Pablo E. Vivas-Mejia, Ph.D., both of the Department of Experimental Therapeutics; and Michael T. Deavers, M.D., of M. D. Anderson’s Department of Pathology. Hwang is also with the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Dongguk University of College of Medicine, Kyung-ju, Korea. 07/15/08”

Quoted Source: TG2 Identified as Potential Target in Chemo-Resistant Ovarian Cancer – M. D. Anderson team silences protein with siRNA, implicates TG2 in fourth cancer, The University of Texas, M.D. Anderson Cancer Center News Release, July 15, 2008 (summarizing the findings of Clinical and biological significance of tissue transglutaminase in ovarian carcinoma; Sood, AK et. al,  Cancer Res. 2008 Jul 15;68(14):5849-58.)

Additional Information: