When doctors diagnosed Sen. Edward Kennedy with a malignant brain tumor last week, the prognosis was bleak. Experts said the average prognosis for the most aggressive form of this tumor, known as a glioma, was approximately 15 months, while those suffering from slower growing tumors might expect to live two to four years.
At the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation, a pair of scientists are exploring a promising new therapy that could one day change those grim statistics.
Working with an experimental compound, Robert Floyd, Ph.D., and Rheal Towner, Ph.D., have found that, in rodents, the drug significantly shrinks the tumors.
“In rats, we’ve seen dramatic effects on the same kind of tumor that Senator Kennedy has,” said Floyd, who holds the Merrick Foundation Chair in Aging Research at OMRF. “If the drug worked the same way in humans, it would, at a minimum, extend lives. And if it worked really well, it might suppress the tumors indefinitely.”
The compound has already been tested for safety in humans in large-scale clinical trials, and it was found to be safe.
“The next step will be to initiate human trials to study the drug’s efficacy in treating gliomas,” said Towner. “We expect to begin those trials in the near future.”
To that end, Floyd and Towner have formed a new biotechnology company: Onconos. The company’s near-term focus will be on conducting clinical trials for the experimental drug, with a long-term goal of obtaining FDA approval for the drug’s use in treating gliomas.
According to the American Cancer Society, more than 21,000 Americans will develop brain and nervous system cancers in 2008, and about 13,000 people will die from these conditions this year.
Gliomas and other tumors are often accompanied by headaches and seizures like the one recently suffered by Sen. Kennedy. Doctors sometimes remove the tumors surgically, with the patient then undergoing a course of radiation and chemotherapy. However, surgery may be impossible due to a tumor’s particular location in the brain, and even if possible, surgical treatment often proves ineffective.
“Brain cancers are a devastating medical problem,” said OMRF President Stephen Prescott, M.D. “The work Drs. Floyd and Towner have done is extremely exciting. Although there’s still a long road ahead, this research holds the potential to change lives.”
OMRF (omrf.org) is an independent, nonprofit biomedical research institute dedicated to understanding and developing more effective treatments for human disease. Chartered in 1946, its scientists focus on such critical research areas as Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, lupus and cardiovascular disease.