Some late-breaking news in October pointed to potential advances in both the understanding of and the treatments for gastric cancer, and an upcoming clinical trial will examine a promising new drug’s prospects in treating the disease.
Experimental Drug Improves Survival
Indianapolis-based drug giant Eli Lilly and Company announced that in a late-stage trial, its investigational compound ramucirumab (IMC-1121B) improved overall survival in patients with metastatic gastric cancer. Ramucirumab inhibits a protein called VEGF receptor-2, which is a primary culprit in “angiogenesis,” the growth of blood vessels that feed tumors. Cutting off the blood supply to tumors has proven an effective strategy, as evidenced by the success of products such as Genentech’s Avastin, which also combats angiogenesis. Lilly did not provide details about the extent of the survival benefit with its drug, but plans to do so at an upcoming medical meeting.
Scientists ID New Gastric Cancer Subtypes
The October 17 issue of the journal Science Translational Medicine spotlights research by scientists at the Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School in Singapore, which suggests that gastric cancer is actually several different diseases. The scientists studied “epigenetics”—external factors that affect genes. They found wide variations in “methylation,” the chemical process that controls gene expression or silencing. The researchers believe that further exploration of methylation patterns will lead to more tailored treatment approaches. “Improving gastric cancer clinical outcomes will require molecular approaches capable of subdividing patients into biologically similar subgroups, and designing subtype-specific therapies for each group,” said Patrick Tan, M.D., Ph.D at Duke-NUS and lead author of the study in a statement.
New Test of “Smart Bomb” Drug
GCF board member Dr. James Ford will be managing the Northern California trial site for a major international study in gastric cancer of a new drug from Roche’s Genentech unit. The drug, known as TDM-1 (short for trastuzumab emtansine), is part of an emerging class of therapies called “armed antibodies.” These proteins are designed to work like smart bombs, homing in on cancer cells and then releasing toxins directly into tumors while sparing healthy tissue. TDM-1 has already delivered impressive clinical trial results in breast cancer. Genentech will test the drug in patients with metastatic gastric tumors that test positive for the HER2 genetic mutation. The drug will be compared to standard treatment with taxanes.