FDA Awards $1.6M Orphan Drug Grant for Clinical Phase II Development of EGEN-001 for Treatment of Ovarian Cancer

EGEN, Inc. announced that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) awarded the company a four-year grant of $1.6 million to assist in the phase II clinical development of EGEN-001, the company’s lead product. EGEN-001 is under clinical development for the treatment of advanced recurrent ovarian cancer.

EGEN, Inc. announced that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) awarded the company a four-year grant of $1.6 million to assist in the phase II clinical development of EGEN-001, the company’s lead product. EGEN-001 is under clinical development for the treatment of advanced recurrent ovarian cancer.[1]

EGEN, Inc. is developing gene-based biopharmaceuticals that rely on proprietary delivery technologies such as TheraPlas™ (illustrated above). In preclinical studies, the application of this approach produced anti-cancer activity in the treatment of disseminated abdominal cancers, solid tumors and metastatic cancers. (Photo: EGEN, Inc.)

EGEN-001 was developed as an interleukin-12 (IL‑12) gene therapy for the treatment of disseminated epithelial ovarian cancer. It is a low concentration formulation composed of a human IL-12 plasmid formulated with a proprietary PPC delivery system. EGEN-001 is designed for intraperitoneal (IP) administration. The subsequent IL-12 protein expression is associated with an increase in immune system activity, including T-lymphocyte and natural killer (NK) cell proliferation, and cytotoxic activation and secretion of interferon gamma (IFN-g), which in turn, leads to tumor inhibition. Additionally, IL-12 inhibits angiogenesis and formation of tumor vascularization.

EGEN has successfully completed two Phase I trials of EGEN-001 in ovarian cancer patients.  In the first study, EGEN-001 was administered as monotherapy in platinum-resistant ovarian cancer patients[2] and in the second study in combination with carboplatin/docetaxel chemotherapy in platinum-sensitive ovarian cancer patients.[3] In both studies, EGEN-001 treatment resulted in good safety, biological activity and encouraging efficacy.[4-5] EGEN-001 received Orphan Drug Status from the FDA in 2005, and its first $1 million FDA orphan grant in 2005.

“This is a significant milestone and accomplishment for the company,” commented Dr. Khursheed Anwer, President and Chief Science Officer of EGEN. “We are pleased to receive this FDA support, which has been very useful in the advancement of our novel EGEN-001 product in the clinic for the treatment of recurrent ovarian cancer. The product utilizes the Company’s proprietary TheraPlas® delivery technology and is composed of interleukin-12 (IL-12) gene formulation with a biocompatible delivery polymer. IL-12 is a potent cytokine which works by enhancing the body’s immune system against cancer and inhibiting tumor blood supply.”

About EGEN, Inc.

EGEN, Inc. (EGEN), with laboratories and headquarters in Huntsville, Alabama, is a privately held biopharmaceutical company focused on developing therapeutics for the treatment of human diseases including cancer. The Company specializes in the delivery of therapeutic nucleic acids (DNA and RNAi) and proteins aimed at specific disease targets. The Company has a significant intellectual property position in synthetic carriers, their combination with DNA, and their therapeutic applications. EGEN’s research pipeline products are aimed at treatment of various cancer indications. In addition, the Company has its TheraSilence® delivery technology aimed at delivery of therapeutic siRNA for the treatment of human diseases. EGEN collaborates with outside investigators, biotech organizations, and universities on various projects in these areas.

References:

1/ A Phase II Evaluation of Intraperitoneal EGEN-001 (IL-12 Plasmid Formulated With PEG-PEI-Cholesterol Lipopolymer) in the Treatment of Persistent or Recurrent Epithelial Ovarian, Fallopian Tube or Primary Peritoneal Cancer, Clinical Trial Summary, ClinicialTrials.gov (Identifier:  NCT01118052).

2/A Phase 1, Open Label, Dose Escalation Study of the Safety, Tolerability and Preliminary Efficacy of Intraperitoneal EGEN-001 in Patients With Recurrent Epithelial Ovarian Cancer, Clinical Trial Summary, ClinicialTrials.gov (Identifier: NCT00137865).

3/A Phase 1, Open-Label, Dose Escalation Study of the Safety and Preliminary Efficacy of EGEN-001 in Combination With Carboplatin and Docetaxel in Women With Recurrent, Platinum-Sensitive, Epithelial Ovarian Cancer, Clinical Trial Summary, ClinicialTrials.gov (Identifier:  NCT00473954).

4/Kendrick JE, Matthews KS, Straughn JM, et. al.  A phase I trial of intraperitoneal EGEN-001, a novel IL-12 gene therapeutic, administered alone or in combination with chemotherapy in patients with recurrent ovarian cancer.  J Clin Oncol 26: 2008 (May 20 suppl; abstr 5572).

5/Anwar K, Barnes MN, Kelly FJ, et. al. Safety and tolerability of a novel IL-12 gene therapeutic administered in combination with carboplatin/docetaxel in patients with recurrent ovarian cancer.  J Clin Oncol 28:15s, 2010 (suppl; abstr 5045).

Source: FDA Awards EGEN, Inc. Orphan -Drug Grant for Clinical Development of EGEN-001 for Treatment of Ovarian Cancer, Press Release, EGEN, Inc., February 2, 2011.

Researchers Identify “Missing Link” Underlying DNA Repair & Platinum Drug Resistance

Researchers have discovered an enzyme crucial to a type of DNA repair that also causes resistance to a class of cancer drugs most commonly used against ovarian cancer.

Scientists from The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and the Life Sciences Institute of Zhejiang University in China report the discovery of the enzyme and its role in repairing DNA damage called “cross-linking” in the Science Express advance online publication of Science.

Junjie Chen, Ph.D., Professor and Chair, Department of Experimental Radiation Oncology, University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center

“This pathway that repairs cross-linking damage is a common factor in a variety of cancers, including breast cancer and especially in ovarian cancer. If the pathway is active, it undoes the therapeutic effect of cisplatin and similar therapies,” said co-corresponding author Junjie Chen, Ph.D., professor and chair of MD Anderson’s Department of Experimental Radiation Oncology.

The platinum-based chemotherapies such as cisplatin, carboplatin and oxaliplatin work by causing DNA cross-linking in cancer cells, which blocks their ability to divide and leads to cell death. Cross-linking occurs when one of the two strands of DNA in a cell branches out and links to the other strand.

Cisplatin and similar drugs are often initially effective against ovarian cancer, Chen said, but over time the disease becomes resistant and progresses.

Scientists have known that the protein complex known as FANCIFANCD2 responds to DNA damage and repairs cross-linking, but the details of how the complex works have been unknown. “The breakthrough in this research is that we finally found an enzyme involved in the repair process,” Chen said.

The enzyme, which they named FAN1, appears to be a nuclease, which is capable of slicing through strands of DNA.

In a series of experiments, Chen and colleagues demonstrated how the protein complex summons FAN1, connects with the enzyme and moves it to the site of DNA cross-linking. They also showed that FAN1 cleaves branched DNA but leaves the normal, separate double-stranded DNA alone. Mutant versions of FAN1 were unable to slice branched DNA.

Like a lock and key

The researchers also demonstrated that FAN1 cannot get at DNA damage without being taken there by the FANCI-FANCD2 protein complex, which detects and moves to the damaged site. The complex recruits the FAN1 enzyme by acquiring a single ubiquitin molecule. FAN1 connects with the complex by binding to the ubiquitin site.

“It’s like a lock and key system, once they fit, FAN1 is recruited,” Chen said.

Analyzing the activity of this repair pathway could guide treatment for cancer patients, Chen said, with the platinum-based therapies used when the cross-linking repair mechanism is less active.

Scientists had shown previously that DNA repair was much less efficient when FANCI and FANCD2 lack the single ubiquitin. DNA response and damage-repair proteins can be recruited to damage sites by the proteins’ ubiquitin-binding domains. The team first identified a protein that had both a ubiquitin-binding domain and a known nuclease domain. When they treated cells with mitomycin C, which promotes DNA cross-linking, that protein, then known as KIAA1018, gathered at damage sites. This led them to the functional experiments that established its role in DNA repair.

They renamed the protein FAN1, short for Fanconi anemia-associated nuclease 1. The FANCI-FANCD2 complex is ubiquitinated by an Fanconi anemia (FA) core complex containing eight FA proteins. These genes and proteins were discovered during research of FA, a rare disease caused by mutations in 13 fanc genes that is characterized by congenital malformations, bone marrow failure, cancer and hypersensitivity to DNA cross-linking agents.

Chen said the FANCI-FANCD2 pathway also is associated with the BRCA1 and BRCA2 pathways, which are involved in homologous recombination repair. Scientists know that homologous recombination repair is also required for the repair of DNA cross-links, but the exact details remain to be resolved, Chen said. Mutations to BRCA1 and BRCA2 are known to raise a woman’s risk for ovarian and breast cancers and are found in about 5-10 percent of women with either disease.

Co-authors with Chen are co-first author Gargi Ghosal, Ph.D., and Jingsong Yuan, Ph.D., also of Experimental Radiation Oncology at MD Anderson; and co-corresponding author Jun Huang, Ph.D., co-first author Ting Liu, Ph.D., of the Life Sciences Institute of Zhejiang University in Hangzhou, China.

This research was funded by a grant from the U.S. National Institutes of Health and the Startup Fund at Zhejiang University.

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PARP Inhibitor Olaparib Benefits Women With Inherited Ovarian Cancer Based Upon Platinum Drug Sensitivity

Olaparib (AZD2281), a new type of cancer drug known as a “PARP inhibitor,” produced promising results in patients with platinum-refractory, platinum-resistant, and platinum-sensitive ovarian cancer linked to an inherited BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation.

A new type of cancer drug — known as a “PARP inhibitor” — produced promising results in patients with ovarian cancer linked to an inherited BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation. The trial results were published online in the Journal of Clinical Oncology on April 19th.

Scientists at The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) and The Royal Marsden Hospital, working with pharmaceutical company KuDOS Pharmaceuticals, now a subsidiary of AstraZeneca, found the experimental drug olaparib shrank or stabilized tumors in approximately half of ovarian cancer patients possessing BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations.

The five-year survival rate for ovarian cancer is just 40 per cent as the majority of patients are diagnosed with an advanced form of the disease. Most patients initially respond well to radical surgery and platinum and taxane-based chemotherapy, but relapse after an average of 18 months. Subsequent treatments generally become less effective as patients build up resistance.

Professor Stan Kaye, Head of Section of Medicine, Institute of Cancer Research; Head of Drug Development Unit, The Royal Marsden Hospital; and Cancer Research UK-funded scientist

“There is an urgent need to find new drugs for women diagnosed with ovarian cancer,” says Professor Stan Kaye, Head of the Section of Medicine at the ICR and Head of the Drug Development Unit at The Royal Marsden Hospital and a Cancer Research UK-funded scientist. “Olaparib is still in early-stage testing but the results so far are very encouraging. These findings raise the possibility that carefully selected patients in future may well be offered olaparib as an alternative to chemotherapy during the course of their treatment.”

Between 2005 and 2008, about 50 women with confirmed or suspected BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations began treatment with olaparib in a dose escalation and single-stage expansion of a Phase I trial. Twenty patients responded with their tumors shrinking or with significant falls in their ovarian cancer marker CA125, or both. The disease also stabilized in three patients. The drug was effective for an average of seven months. Notably, several patients are still taking olaparib (for nearly two years). Drug side-effects were generally mild, especially when compared to current chemotherapy treatments.

Olaparib is a new type of drug known as a PARP inhibitor that works by turning a tumor’s specific genetic defect against itself. In susceptible cells, olaparib prevents the repair of naturally occurring breaks in DNA, which healthy cells are able to repair. Susceptible cancer cells – those with an existing defect in a DNA repair pathway caused by a mutation in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes – are unable to repair themselves, and therefore, die.

Platinum-based chemotherapy, particularly carboplatin, is one of the main treatments used for ovarian cancer. When this treatment ceases to be effective, theoretically, olaparib might be less effective too, so the ICR scientists examined whether olaparib would still benefit patients whose response to previous platinum-based drugs was limited. Finding new drugs to treat these “platinum-resistant” ovarian cancer patients (those who relapsed within six months of previous platinum therapy) is a particularly high priority as they have a lower chance of benefiting from re-treatment with chemotherapy and a poorer prognosis.

The research team found that the clinical benefit rate with olaparib was indeed higher — 70% — among patients with “platinum-sensitive disease” (disease recurrence more than six months after previous platinum therapy). Crucially, however, the clinical benefit rate was still 46% in platinum resistant patients.

ICR Study Findings:

  • 50 patients participated in the study (13 had platinum-sensitive disease, 24 had platinum-resistant disease, and 13 had platinum-refractory disease (according to platinum-free interval).
  • 20 patients (40%) achieved complete or partial responses under RECIST (Response Evaluation Criteria in Solid Tumors) criteria and/or tumor marker (CA125) responses.
  • Overall clinical benefit rate (complete response + partial response + stable disease) = 46%.
  • Median response duration was 28 weeks.
  • There was a significant association between the clinical benefit rate and platinum-free interval across the platinum-sensitive, resistant, and refractory patient subgroups (69%, 45%, and 23%, respectively).
  • Analyses indicated associations between platinum sensitivity and extent of olaparib response.
  • CONCLUSION: Olaparib has antitumor activity in BRCA1/2 mutation ovarian cancer, which is associated with platinum sensitivity.

Up to 15 per cent of breast and ovarian cancers have known BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations on blood testing and, importantly, laboratory data strongly suggests that olaparib may also be effective in cancers linked to DNA repair defects not caused by BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations. This could apply in about half the cases of the most common histological type of ovarian cancer.

“We have good reason for thinking that the benefit seen with olaparib in BRCA mutation-linked ovarian cancer may well extend to a broader population of patients with this disease,” says Professor Kaye.

Randomised trials of olaparib – in which some patients receive the drug and others a placebo – are underway and results will be available later this year.

KuDOS Pharmaceuticals (a wholly owned subsidiary of AstraZeneca) was the major funder of the trial, along with Cancer Research UK and the National Institute for Health Research. Olaparib was identified and developed at KuDOS Pharmaceuticals and subsequently at AstraZeneca.

PARP Inhibitor Clinical Trials:

To view a list of open ovarian cancer clinical trials that are testing olaparib (AZD2281), click here.

To view a list of open solid tumor clinical trials that are testing olaparib (AZD2281), click here.

To view a list of open ovarian cancer clinical trials that are testing various PARP inhibitors, click here.

To view a list of open solid tumor clinical trials that are testing various PARP inhibitors, click here.

About The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR)

* The ICR is Europe’s leading cancer research centre.

* The ICR has been ranked the UK’s top academic research centre, based on the results of the Higher Education Funding Council’s Research Assessment Exercise.

* The ICR works closely with partner The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust to ensure patients immediately benefit from new research. Together the two organisations form the largest comprehensive cancer centre in Europe.

* The ICR has charitable status and relies on voluntary income, spending 95 pence in every pound of total income directly on research.

* As a college of the University of London, the ICR also provides postgraduate higher education of international distinction.

* Over its 100-year history, the ICR’s achievements include identifying the potential link between smoking and lung cancer which was subsequently confirmed, discovering that DNA damage is the basic cause of cancer and isolating more cancer-related genes than any other organization in the world.

* The ICR is home to the world’s leading academic drug development team. Several important anti-cancer drugs used worldwide were synthesised at the ICR and it has discovered an average of two preclinical candidates each year over the past five years.

For more information visit www.icr.ac.uk.

About The Royal Marsden Hospital

The Royal Marsden opened its doors in 1851 as the world’s first hospital dedicated to cancer treatment, research and education. Today, together with its academic partner, The Institute of Cancer Research, it is the largest and most comprehensive cancer centre in Europe treating over 40,000 patients every year. It is a centre of excellence, and the only NHS Trust to achieve the highest possible ranking in the Healthcare Commission’s Annual Health Check for the third year in a row. Since 2004, the hospital’s charity, The Royal Marsden Cancer Campaign, has helped raise over £43 million to build theatres, diagnostic centres, and drug development units. Prince William became President of The Royal Marsden in 2007, following a long royal connection with the hospital.

For more information, visit www.royalmarsden.nhs.uk

About Cancer Research UK

* Cancer Research UK is the world’s leading charity dedicated to beating cancer through research.

* The charity’s groundbreaking work into the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer has helped save millions of lives. This work is funded entirely by the public.

* Cancer Research UK has been at the heart of the progress that has already seen survival rates double in the last thirty years.

* Cancer Research UK supports research into all aspects of cancer through the work of more than 4,800 scientists, doctors and nurses.

* Together with its partners and supporters, Cancer Research UK’s vision is to beat cancer.

For further information about Cancer Research UK’s work or to find out how to support the charity, please call 020 7121 6699 or visit www.cancerresearchuk.org

About Experimental Cancer Medicine Centre (ECMC)

Experimental Cancer Medicine Centre (ECMC) status has been awarded to 19 centres in the UK that are specialist centres conducting research into new cancer treatments. The aim is to bring together cancer doctors, research nurses and lab scientists to make clinical trials of new treatments quicker and easier. The ECMC initiative is funded by Cancer Research UK and the Departments of Health of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Together they are giving a total of £35 million pounds over five years to the 19 centres. The centres will use this money to run trials of new and experimental treatments. They will also analyse thousands of blood and tissue samples (biopsies) to help find out more about how treatments work and what happens to cancer cells.

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Genentech Announces Positive Results of Avastin Phase III Study in Women with Advanced Ovarian Cancer

Genentech announces positive results of Avastin Phase III study (GOG 218) in women with advanced ovarian cancer. The study showed that women who continued maintenance use of Avastin alone, after receiving Avastin in combination with chemotherapy, lived longer without the disease worsening compared to those who received chemotherapy alone. This is the first Phase III study of an anti-angiogenic therapy in advanced ovarian cancer to meet its primary endpoint.

Tumor angiogenesis is the proliferation of a network of blood vessels that penetrates into cancerous growths, supplying nutrients and oxygen and removing waste products. Tumor angiogenesis actually starts with cancerous tumor cells releasing molecules that send signals to surrounding normal host tissue. This signaling activates certain genes in the host tissue that, in turn, make proteins to encourage growth of new blood vessels. Photo credit: NCI

Genentech, Inc., a wholly owned member of the Roche Group , today announced that a Phase III study showed the combination of Avastin® (bevacizumab) and chemotherapy followed by maintenance use of Avastin alone increased the time women with previously untreated advanced ovarian cancer lived without the disease worsening (progression-free survival or PFS), compared to chemotherapy alone. A preliminary assessment of safety noted adverse events previously observed in pivotal trials of Avastin. Data from the study will be submitted for presentation at the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) annual meeting, June 4 – 8, 2010.

In the three-arm study, known as Gynecologic Oncology Group (GOG) 0218, women with newly diagnosed advanced ovarian cancer who already had surgery to remove as much of the tumor as possible were randomized to receive one of the following:

  • Arm 1: Placebo in combination with carboplatin and paclitaxel chemotherapy followed by placebo alone, for a total of up to 15 months of therapy
  • Arm 2: Avastin in combination with carboplatin and paclitaxel chemotherapy followed by placebo alone, for a total of up to 15 months of therapy
  • Arm 3: Avastin in combination with carboplatin and paclitaxel chemotherapy followed by the maintenance use of Avastin alone, for a total of up to 15 months of therapy.

The study showed that women who continued maintenance use of Avastin alone, after receiving Avastin in combination with chemotherapy (Arm 3), lived longer without the disease worsening compared to those who received chemotherapy alone. Women who received Avastin in combination with chemotherapy, but did not continue maintenance use of Avastin alone (Arm 2), did not live longer without the disease worsening compared to chemotherapy alone.

“Additional medicines are urgently needed for women with newly diagnosed advanced ovarian cancer, as most women’s cancer will worsen after their initial treatment,” said Hal Barron, M.D., F.A.C.C., Executive Vice President, Global Development and Chief Medical Officer. “We are encouraged by the positive findings of this study, which highlight the importance of continuing maintenance Avastin after combining Avastin with chemotherapy in this setting. We will discuss these results with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.”

Robert Allen Burger, MD, FACOG, FACS, Fox Chase Cancer Center, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

“This is good news for women with ovarian, primary peritoneal or fallopian tube cancers,” said GOG 0218 study chair Robert Burger, M.D., Fox-Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia. “This study showed that after initial surgery, the combination of Avastin and chemotherapy followed by extended treatment with Avastin improves progression-free survival in women with newly diagnosed advanced tumors.”

The trial is sponsored by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) under a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement between the NCI and Genentech, and is being conducted by a network of researchers led by the GOG.

Avastin is being studied worldwide in more than 450 clinical trials for multiple types of cancer, including approximately 25 ongoing clinical trials in the United States for women with various stages of ovarian cancer.

About Ovarian Cancer

According to the American Cancer Society, ovarian cancer is the fifth leading cause of cancer death among American women. In 2009 an estimated 21,500 women were diagnosed with ovarian cancer and approximately 14,500 died from the disease in the U.S. The disease causes more deaths than any other gynecologic cancer, and the American Cancer Society estimates that nearly 70 percent of women with advanced disease will die from it within five years.

Ovarian cancer is associated with high levels of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), a protein associated with tumor growth and spread. Studies have shown a correlation between a high level of VEGF and a poorer prognosis in women with ovarian cancer. Currently, treatment options for women with this disease are limited to surgery and chemotherapy.

About the GOG 0218 Study

GOG 0218 is an international, multicenter, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled Phase III study in 1,873 women with previously untreated advanced epithelial ovarian, primary peritoneal or fallopian tube carcinoma. The study evaluates Avastin (5 cycles) in combination with carboplatin and paclitaxel chemotherapy (6 cycles) compared to carboplatin and paclitaxel chemotherapy alone (6 cycles). The trial is also designed to assess the maintenance use of Avastin alone following the initial combined regimen of Avastin and chemotherapy (for a total of up to 15 months of therapy), compared to carboplatin and paclitaxel chemotherapy alone (6 cycles).

The primary endpoint of the study is PFS as assessed by trial investigators. Secondary and exploratory endpoints of the study include overall survival, PFS by independent review, objective response rate, safety, quality of life measures and analysis of patient tumor and blood samples.

Detailed safety assessments are ongoing. A preliminary assessment of safety performed by the GOG identified Avastin-related serious adverse events noted in previous pivotal studies, including fatal neutropenic infection and gastrointestinal perforation. The full study results, including safety information, will be presented at a future medical meeting.

About Avastin

Avastin is a solution for intravenous infusion and is a biologic antibody designed to specifically bind to a protein called VEGF. VEGF plays an important role throughout the lifecycle of the tumor to develop and maintain blood vessels, a process known as angiogenesis. Avastin interferes with the tumor blood supply by directly binding to the VEGF protein to prevent interactions with receptors on blood vessel cells. Avastin does not bind to receptors on normal or cancer cells. The tumor blood supply is thought to be critical to a tumor’s ability to grow and spread in the body (metastasize). For more information about angiogenesis, visit http://www.gene.com.

Boxed WARNINGS and Additional Important Safety Information

People treated with Avastin may experience side effects. In clinical trials, some people treated with Avastin experienced serious and sometimes fatal side effects, including:

Gastrointestinal (GI) perforation: Treatment with Avastin can result in the development of a potentially serious side effect called GI perforation, which is the development of a hole in the stomach, small intestine or large intestine. In clinical trials, this side effect occurred in more people who received Avastin than in the comparison group (0.3 percent to 2.4 percent). In some cases, GI perforation resulted in fatality.

Surgery and wound healing problems: Treatment with Avastin can lead to slow or incomplete wound healing (for example, when a surgical incision has trouble healing or staying closed). In some cases, this event resulted in fatality. Surgery and wound healing problems occurred more often in people who received Avastin than in the comparison group. Avastin therapy should not be started for at least 28 days after surgery and until the surgical wound is fully healed. The length of time between stopping Avastin and having voluntary surgery without the risk of having surgery and wound healing problems following surgery has not been determined.

Severe bleeding: Treatment with Avastin can result in serious bleeding, including coughing up blood, bleeding in the stomach, vomiting of blood, bleeding in the brain, nosebleeds and vaginal bleeding. These events occurred up to five times more often in people who received Avastin. Across cancer types, 1.2 percent to 4.6 percent of people who received Avastin experienced severe to fatal bleeding. People who have recently coughed up blood (greater than or equal to a half teaspoon of red blood) or have serious bleeding should not receive Avastin.

In clinical trials for different cancer types, there were additional serious and sometimes fatal side effects that occurred in more people who received Avastin than in those in the comparison group. The formation of an abnormal passage from parts of the body to another part (non-GI fistula formation) was seen in 0.3 percent or less of people. Severe to life-threatening stroke or heart problems were seen in 2.4 percent of people. Too much protein in the urine, which led to kidney problems, was seen in less than 1 percent of people. Additional serious side effects that occurred in more people who received Avastin than those in the comparison group included severe to life-threatening high blood pressure, which was seen in 5 percent to 18 percent of people, and nervous system and vision disturbances (reversible posterior leukoencephalopathy syndrome), which was seen in less than 0.1 percent of people. Infusion reactions with the first dose of Avastin were uncommon and occurred in less than 3 percent of people and severe reactions occurred in 0.2 percent of people.

Common side effects that occurred in more than 10 percent of people who received Avastin for different cancer types, and at least twice the rate of the comparison group, were nosebleeds, headache, high blood pressure, inflammation of the nose, too much protein in the urine, taste change, dry skin, rectal bleeding, tear production disorder, back pain and inflammation of the skin (exfoliative dermatitis). Across all trials, treatment with Avastin was permanently stopped in 8.4 percent to 21 percent of people because of side effects.

Avastin may impair fertility. Patients who are pregnant or thinking of becoming pregnant should talk with their doctor about the potential risk of loss of the pregnancy or the potential risk of Avastin to the fetus during and following Avastin therapy, and the need to continue an effective birth control method for at least six months following the last dose of Avastin.

For full Prescribing Information and Boxed WARNINGS on Avastin please visit http://www.avastin.com.

About Genentech

Founded more than 30 years ago, Genentech is a leading biotechnology company that discovers, develops, manufactures and commercializes medicines to treat patients with serious or life-threatening medical conditions. The company, a wholly owned member of the Roche Group, has headquarters in South San Francisco, California. For additional information about the company, please visit http://www.gene.com.

About The Gynecologic Oncology Group (GOG)

The Gynecologic Oncology Group is a non-profit organization of more than 300 member institutions with the purpose of promoting excellence in the quality and integrity of clinical and basic scientific research in the field of Gynecologic malignancies. The Group is committed to maintaining the highest standards in the clinical trial development, execution, analysis and distribution of results. Continuous evaluation of our processes is utilized in order to constantly improve the quality of patient care.

GOG receives support from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) of the National Institutes for Health (NIH).

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Two Combination Treatment Regimens Added to Updated NCCN Guidelines for Ovarian Cancer

The National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) recently updated the NCCN Guidelines for Ovarian Cancer to include two additional combination treatment regimens for women with select types of recurring ovarian cancer.

The National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) recently updated the NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines for Oncology™ for Ovarian Cancer to reflect the addition of two preferred combination regimens for a specific cohort of patients based on data from recent clinical research studies.

Key updates to the NCCN Guidelines include the addition of carboplatin (Paraplatin®, Bristol-Myers Squibb)/weekly paclitaxel (Taxol®, Bristol-Myers Squibb) and carboplatin/liposomal doxorubicin (Doxil®, Centocor Ortho Biotech) for cytotoxic therapy for patients with platinum-sensitive epithelial ovarian cancer, fallopian tube cancer, or primary peritoneal cancer that has recurred.

These modifications made to the NCCN Guidelines for ovarian cancer are based on results from recent studies in The Lancet and The Journal of Clinical Oncology demonstrating that both combination regimens improved median progression-free survival in women with specific types of recurring ovarian cancer as compared to conventional regimens. In addition, the carboplatin/weekly paclitaxel regimen improved overall survival.

Robert J. Morgan, Jr., M.D., F.A.C.P., Professor, Medical Oncology & Therapeutics Research, City of Hope Comprehensive Cancer Center

“Ovarian cancer is a challenge to treat because by the time the majority of the women are diagnosed with the disease, it has already progressed to stage III or IV,” says Robert J. Morgan, MD, of City of Hope Comprehensive Cancer Center and the chair of the NCCN Guidelines Panel for Ovarian Cancer. “Although finding effective screening tools remains a priority, new treatment options for women with ovarian cancer such as the ones outlined in the updated NCCN Guidelines, remains imperative to making steady progress against the disease.”

Epithelial ovarian cancer is the leading cause of death from gynecologic cancer in the United States and the country’s fifth most common cause of cancer mortality in women. In the year 2009, there were more than 21,000 new diagnoses and nearly 15,000 deaths from this neoplasm in the United States.

The NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology™ are developed and updated through an evidence-based process with explicit review of the scientific evidence integrated with expert judgment by multidisciplinary panels of physicians from NCCN Member Institutions. The most recent version of this and all the NCCN Guidelines are available free of charge at NCCN.org.

About the National Comprehensive Cancer Network

The National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN), a not-for-profit alliance of 21 of the world’s leading cancer centers, is dedicated to improving the quality and effectiveness of care provided to patients with cancer. Through the leadership and expertise of clinical professionals at NCCN Member Institutions, NCCN develops resources that present valuable information to the numerous stakeholders in the health care delivery system. As the arbiter of high-quality cancer care, NCCN promotes the importance of continuous quality improvement and recognizes the significance of creating clinical practice guidelines appropriate for use by patients, clinicians, and other health care decision-makers. The primary goal of all NCCN initiatives is to improve the quality, effectiveness, and efficiency of oncology practice so patients can live better lives.

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UCLA Researchers Significantly Inhibit Growth of Ovarian Cancer Cell Lines With FDA-Approved Leukemia Drug Dasatinib (Sprycel®)

The drug dasatinib (Sprycel®), approved for use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in patients with specific types of leukemia, significantly inhibited the growth and invasiveness of ovarian cancer cells and also promoted their death, say UCLA researchers in the November 10th issue of the British Journal of Cancer. The drug, when paired with a chemotherapy regimen, was even more effective in fighting ovarian cancer cell lines in which signaling of the Src family kinases — associated with approximately one-third of ovarian cancers– is activated. Clinical trials that involve the testing of dasatinib against ovarian cancer and solid tumors are currently ongoing.

Researchers affiliated with the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), Mayo Clinic and Harvard Medical School announced that they have established a biological rationale to support the clinical study of the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA)-approved leukemia drug dasatinib (U.S. brand name: Sprycel®), either alone or in combination with chemotherapy, in patients with ovarian cancer. The study appears in the November 10th edition of the British Journal of Cancer.

Background

Dasatinib is an FDA-approved drug for the treatment of chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) and Philadelphia chromosome positive acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). Dasatinib is a small-molecule inhibitor that targets several tyrosine kinases, including the Src kinase family, Ephrin type-A receptor 2 ( EphA2) , and the focal adhesion kinase (FAK).

Src is the prototypic member of a family of nine non-receptor tyrosine kinases (Src, Lyn, Fyn, Lck, Hck, Fgr, Blk, Yrk, and Yes). The Src family kinase (SFK) proteins regulate four main cellular fuctions that ultimately control the behavior of transformed cancer cells:  cell proliferation, adhesion, invasion, and motility.

Eph receptors and ephrins are integral players in cancer formation and progression, and are associated with advanced ovarian cancer and poor clinical outcome.

FAK is a non-receptor tyrosine kinase involved in the regulation of cell adhesion, survival, and migration.  Preclinical studies indicate that FAK plays a signficant role in ovarian cancer cell migration and invasion.

Dasatinib Study Methodology & Findings

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One of the dasatinib study authors is Dennis J. Slamon, M.D. Ph.D. Dr. Slamon is the Director of Clinical/Translational Research & Director of the Revlon/UCLA Women's Cancer Research Program, at the UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center. He is also the co-discoverer of Herceptin®, a targeted therapy that revolutionized the treatment of HER-2 positive breast cancer.

The researchers carried out the study by testing the effects of dasatinib on human ovarian cancer cells in vitro, using a panel of 34 established human ovarian cancer cell lines.  The 34 cell lines selected were representative of the major epithelial ovarian cancer subtypes:

On this basis, the researchers examined the effects of dasatinib on ovarian tumor cell proliferation, invasion, apoptosis, and cell-cycle arrest.  To more fully understand the activity of dasatinib, the researchers also studied the efficacy of chemotherapeutic drugs (i.e., carboplatin and paclitaxel) in combination with dasatinib against ovarian cancer cells that were previously determined to be dasatinib-sensitive.

The overarching goals of the study were (i) to provide a rationale to test dasatinib as a single agent or in combination with chemotherapy in patients with ovarian cancer, and (ii) to identify molecular markers that may help define subsets of ovarian cancer patients most likely to benefit from treatment with dasatinib.

Significant findings reported in the dasatinib study are summarized below.

  • Concentration-dependent, anti-proliferative effects of dasatinib were seen in all ovarian cancer cell lines tested.
  • Dasatinib significantly inhibited tumor cell invasion, and induced tumor cell death, but was less effective in causing tumor cell-cycle arrest.
  • At a wide range of clinically achievable drug concentrations, additive and synergistic interactions were observed for dasatinib plus carboplatin or paclitaxel.
  • 24 out of 34 (71%) representative ovarian cancer cell lines were highly sensitive (i.e.,  ≥ 60% growth inhibition) to dasatinib.
  • 6 cells lines were moderately sensitive (i.e., 40% – 59% growth inhibition) to dasatinib.
  • 4 cell lines were resistant (i.e., < 40% growth inhibition) to dasatinib.
  • When comparing dasatinib sensitivity between cell lines based solely upon histological subtype (i.e., serous papillary, clear cell, endometrioid, mucinous, and undifferentiated ovarian cancer cell lines), no single histological subtype was more sensitive than another.
  • Ovarian cancer cell lines with high expression of Yes, Lyn, Eph2A, caveolin-1 and 2, moesin, annexin-1 and 2 and uPA (urokinase-type Plasminogen Activator), as well as those with low expression of IGFBP2 (insulin-like growth factor binding protein 2), were particularly sensitive to dasatinib.
  • Ovarian cancer cell lines with high expression of HER-2 (Human Epidermal growth factor Receptor 2), VEGF (Vascular endothelial growth factor) and STAT3 (Signal Transducer and Activator of Transcription 3) were correlated with in vitro resistance to dasatinib.

Based upon the findings above, the researchers concluded that there is a clear biological rationale to support the clinical study of dasatinib, as a single agent or in combination with chemotherapy, in patients with ovarian cancer.

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Gottfried E. Konecny, M.D., UCLA Assistant Professor of Hematology/Oncology, UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center Researcher & First Author of the Dasatinib Study

Ovarian cancer, which will strike 21,600 women this year and kill 15,500, causes more deaths than any other cancer of the female reproductive system. Few effective therapies for ovarian cancer exist, so it would be advantageous for patients if a new drug could be found that fights the cancer, said Gottfried E. Konecny, M.D., a UCLA assistant professor of hematology/oncology, a Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center researcher, and first author of the study.

“I think Sprycel® could be a potential additional drug for treating patients with Src dependent ovarian cancer,” Konecny said. “It is important to remember that this work is only on cancer cell lines, but it is significant enough that it should be used to justify clinical trials to confirm that women with this type of ovarian cancer could benefit.”

Recent gene expression studies have shown that approximately one-third of women have ovarian cancers with activated Src pathways, so the drug could potentially help 7,000 ovarian cancer patients every year. Notably, a gene expression study published in 2007 reported Src activation in approximately 50% of the ovarian cancer tumors examined.

In the dasatinib study, the UCLA team tested the drug against 34 ovarian cancer cell lines and conducted genetic analysis of those lines. Through these actions, the researchers were able to identify genes that predict response to dasatinib. If the work is confirmed in human studies, it may be possible to test patients for Src activation and select those who would respond prior to treatment, thereby personalizing their care.

“We were able to identify markers in the pre-clinical setting that would allow us to predict response to Sprycel®,” Konecny said. “These may help us in future clinical trials in selecting patients for studies of the drug.”

Dasatinib is referred to as a “dirty” kinase inhibitor, meaning it inhibits more than one cellular pathway. Konecny said it also inhibits the focal adhesion kinase (FAK) and ephrin receptor, also associated with ovarian cancer, in addition to the Src cellular pathway.

The next step, Konecny said, would be to test the drug on women with ovarian cancer in a clinical trial. The tissue of responders would then be analyzed to determine if the Src and other pathways were activated. If that is confirmed, it would further prove that dasatinib could be used to fight ovarian cancer. In studies, women would be screened before entering a trial and only those with Src dependent cancers could be enrolled to provide further evidence, Konecny said, much like the studies of the molecularly targeted breast cancer drug Herceptin® enrolled only women who had HER-2 positive disease.

“Herceptin® is different because we knew in advance that it only worked in women with HER-2 [gene] amplification,” he said. “In this case, we don’t clearly know that yet. The data reassures us that the drug works where the targets are over-expressed but we need more testing to confirm this.”

The tests combining the drug with chemotherapy are significant because chemotherapy, namely carboplatin and paclitaxel, is considered the standard first line treatment for ovarian cancer patients following surgery. Because dasatinib proved to have a synergistic effect when combined with chemotherapy, it may be possible to add this targeted therapy as a first line treatment if its efficacy is confirmed in future studies.

Dasatinib Study Significance

The dasatinib study is potentially significant to the area of ovarian cancer treatment for several reasons.

First, although this study only tested dasatinib in vitro against ovarian cancer cell lines, the drug is already FDA-approved.  Accordingly, the general safety of the drug has already been established by the FDA.

Second, 71% of the ovarian cancer lines were highly sensitive to dasatinib.

Third, dasatinib was additive to, or synergistic with, the standard of care chemotherapy drugs used in first line ovarian cancer treatment, i.e., carboplatin and paclitaxel.

Fourth, the study established molecular markers that may be predictive of dasatinib effectiveness in particular patients.  In theory, a patient’s tumor biopsy could be tested for the presence of those molecular markers to determine whether a patient will benefit from dasatinib.

Fifth, one of the dasatinib study authors is Dennis J. Slamon, M.D. Ph.D. Dr. Slamon is the director of Clinical/Translational Research, and director of the Revlon/UCLA Women’s Cancer Research Program, at the UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center. Dr. Slamon is also the co-discoverer of Herceptin®, a targeted therapy that revolutionized the treatment of HER-2 positive breast cancer.  Herceptin® is a targeted therapy that kills HER-2 positive breast cancer cells while leaving normal cells unaffected.  The potential use of dasatinib to treat select ovarian cancer patients who test “positive” for specific molecular markers (e.g., Src cellular pathway activation) is similar to the extremely successful drug development approach used for Herceptin®.

Open Clinical Trials Testing Dasatinib (Sprycel®) Against Ovarian Cancer & Solid Tumors

As of this writing, there are several open (i.e., recruiting) clinical trials that involve testing dasatinib against ovarian cancer and solid tumors.

For a list of open clinical trials that involve testing dasatinib against ovarian cancer, CLICK HERE.

For a list of open clinical trials that involve testing dasatinib against solid tumors, CLICK HERE.

All potential volunteers must satisfy the clinical trial entrance criteria prior to enrollment.  Depending on the drug combination being tested, one or more of the solid tumor clinical trials may not be appropriate for an ovarian cancer patient.

About the UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center

UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center (JCCC) has more than 240 researchers and clinicians engaged in disease research, prevention, detection, control, treatment and education. One of the nation’s largest comprehensive cancer centers, JCCC is dedicated to promoting research and translating basic science into leading-edge clinical studies. In July 2009, JCCC was named among the top 12 cancer centers nationwide by U.S. News & World Report, a ranking it has held for 10 consecutive years. For more information on JCCC, visit the website at http://www.cancer.ucla.edu.

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Modified Chemo Regime Increases Survival In Advanced Ovarian Cancer Patients But Adds Toxicity

Women with advanced ovarian cancer lived longer and without their tumors growing after receiving a modified regimen of a standard chemotherapy drug combination, Japanese researchers reported last week. In a large phase III clinical trial, women who received carboplatin every 3 weeks and a reduced dose of paclitaxel (Taxol®) once a week for 3 weeks instead of carboplatin and a higher single dose of paclitaxel every 3 weeks had a 29 percent improvement in progression-free survival and a 25 percent improvement in overall survival after 3 years of follow-up.

Women with advanced ovarian cancer lived longer and without their tumors growing after receiving a modified regimen of a standard chemotherapy drug combination, Japanese researchers reported last week. In a large phase III clinical trial, women who received carboplatin every 3 weeks and a reduced dose of paclitaxel (Taxol®) once a week for 3 weeks instead of carboplatin and a higher single dose of paclitaxel every 3 weeks had a 29 percent improvement in progression-free survival and a 25 percent improvement in overall survival after 3 years of follow-up. The results were published online September 18 in The Lancet.

Although the toxicities of this dose-dense regimen were greater than they were in women who received the standard combination, survival benefits of this magnitude “have been rare in women with advanced ovarian cancer,” wrote Dr. Noriyuki Katsumata and colleagues from the Japanese Gynecologic Oncology Group (JGOG).

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Edward L. Trimble, MD, MPH; Head - Gynecologic Cancer Therapeutics and Quality of Cancer Care Therapeutics, Clinical Investigation Branch, Cancer Therapy Evaluation Program, Division of Cancer Treatment and Diagnosis.

The results, explained Dr. Ted Trimble, from NCI’s Division of Cancer Treatment and Diagnosis, are consistent with what has been seen in breast cancer using a dose-dense chemotherapy regimen. The idea, he continued, is “to balance efficacy and toxicity by using a weekly schedule rather than every 3 weeks.”

Although the findings are important, “they won’t change practice overnight,” Dr. Trimble said. There are still several significant unknowns, including whether a lower dose of paclitaxel might be as effective but less toxic; the optimal timing of surgery; and where intraperitoneal chemotherapy fits into the treatment mix. The JGOG trial results, however, will influence the design of a number of phase III clinical trials, all of which include dose-dense chemotherapy, he added.

More than 630 women at 85 hospitals across Japan enrolled in the trial. Patients were randomly assigned to either of the two treatment groups. After 3 years of follow-up, women who received the dose-dense treatment had a median progression-free survival of 28 months, compared with 17 months for those who received the standard treatment.

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Michael A. Bookman, M.D., Chief, Hematology/Oncology Section, Arizona Cancer Center

Not enough time has passed to determine with statistical confidence whether the overall survival advantage will be maintained. However, in ovarian cancer, improvements in progression-free survival tend to predict overall survival, said Dr. Michael A. Bookman, chief of the Hematology/Oncology Section at the Arizona Cancer Center, in an accompanying editorial in The Lancet.

The dose-dense chemotherapy regimen used in the trial was also dose-intense, meaning the total dose of paclitaxel patients received was actually higher than in those who received standard treatment. This was associated with some toxic side effects that caused treatment delays and modifications and also led to patients receiving less caboplatin than intended. In fact, more than half of the women in the dose-dense group discontinued treatment early, and most of them did so because of the toxicity.

Although it’s possible that the dose intensity was responsible for the survival improvements, Dr. Bookman wrote, the more frequent, lower-dose treatment schedule is the most “plausible explanation.” As a result, “similar results might be achieved” with a lower dose, he concluded, “with improved tolerability.”

As for why the dose-dense approach is more effective than the standard approach, the Japanese researchers suggested that it hampers the formation of blood vessels that feed tumors. In animal model studies, dose-dense chemotherapy, like a similar treatment also under active investigation called metronomic chemotherapy, has been shown to have such an antiangiogenic effect. And in the JGOG trial, the researchers noted, tumor shrinkage following treatment did not differ between those receiving dose-dense chemotherapy and standard chemotherapy. This suggests that the dose-dense treatment “might promote tumor dormancy by maintaining tumor size and preventing outgrowth,” they wrote.

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Ronald Alvarez, M.D., Director, Division of Gynecologic Oncology, University of Alabama at Birmingham

The U.S.-based Gynecologic Oncology Group is planning to launch a phase III clinical trial in advanced ovarian cancer combining the dose-dense approach with the targeted antiangiogenic drug bevacizumab (Avastin), said Dr. Ronald Alvarez, director of the Division of Gynecologic Oncology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. This should help to confirm the Japanese trial’s results.

In the meantime, “Given the potential toxicity, clinicians should discuss with their patients the risks versus the benefits of this approach in comparison with other treatment strategies,” Dr. Alvarez said, particularly with those patients who have advanced disease and whose tumors could not be mostly eradicated by surgery.

Source: Modified Chemo Regimen Effective in Advanced Ovarian Cancer, by Carmen Phillips, NCI Cancer Bulletin Volume 6 / Number 18, National Cancer Institute, September 22, 2009.

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