MONDAY, Feb. 11 (HealthDay News) -- Preliminary research
produced promising results for a cancer-fighting drug that
piggybacks on a virus similar to the one used in the smallpox
Patients with advanced liver cancer who were given higher doses
of the drug lived months longer than those who took lower doses,
and the researchers said some of them are still alive three years
There are many caveats. The drug, known as JX-594, is in the
early stages of development, and the evidence is years from being
ready to be submitted for approval by U.S. Food and Drug
Administration officials. The study is also very small, doesn't
compare patients who took the drug to those who didn't, and offers
no details about its potential cost.
However, the finding is unusual because it suggests that a drug
that enters the body through a virus can improve survival in cancer
patients, said study co-author Dr. David Kirn, chief medical
officer with Jennerex Biotherapeutics, in San Francisco, which is
developing the medication. The average survival "more than doubled"
in those who took the larger doses. "It's exciting and important
for the field, but there's no question we need to confirm it," he
William Phelps, director of preclinical and translational cancer
research for the American Cancer Society, called the research
"promising" and said it reflects the evolution of cancer research
toward developing new ways to treat the disease other than the
traditional methods of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, which
aim to remove or kill the cancer.
The new drug, like others that are now in development, tries to
stimulate the patient's own immune system to fight the cancer. It
works by entering the body through an "engineered vaccine" that's
similar to the vaccine that prevents smallpox. (The vaccine in this
case, like the smallpox vaccine, doesn't cause disease.)
Instead of multiplying in regular cells, the virus in this case
only multiplies in cancer cells, study co-author Kirn explained.
"It makes thousands of copies and bursts the cancer cell," he said,
and then releases a kind of alert to the immune system that tells
it that other cancer cells need to be destroyed.
In the new study, the second of three phases required in medical
research, scientists gave doses of medication to 30 patients with
severe liver cancer. They received three doses, injected into the
blood or into their tumors, over a month.
Those who took a higher dose lived for 14 months on average,
compared to seven months for those who took the lower dose. The
researchers reported that the drug appeared to have an effect not
only on the liver tumors but also in cancer cells that had spread
elsewhere in the body.
While the study is "by no means definitive" overall, that's good
news, said Dr. Neal Meropol, chair of the division of hematology
and oncology at Case Western University and the Seidman Cancer
Center at University Hospitals, in Cleveland.
As for side effects, patients all felt like they had the flu for
about a day, Kirn said. About one-third of those who took the
higher dose developed anorexia.
Kirn said the research will continue. He declined to provide a
specific estimate of how much the drug will cost, but he did say
that its production is not "exceedingly expensive."
The study appears online in the Feb. 10 issue of the journal
For more about
cancer, visit the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
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