Apr 25, 2013

One new type of medication may treat many cancers

Wouldn't it be great if there were medications that would treat many types of cancer? Well, they might be on the horizon.

For the first time ever, three different pharmaceutical companies; Merck, Roche, and Sanofi, are testing drugs that, hopefully, will restore a mechanism that normally makes badly damaged cells self-destruct. This is the norm in our bodies. Remember that cancer cells are dangerous because they do not self-destruct.

A protein molecule known as p53 normally allows damaged cells in the body to self-destruct but, in about half of all cancers, it is disabled when another protein molecule found in cancer cells, MDM2, attaches to it. This stops cancer cell death and allows the cancer to keep growing. Researchers have long hoped to find a way to restart p53.

Recent research has found ways to break the two proteins apart, allowing the p53 gene to once again trigger the death of damaged (cancerous) cells. Testing with mice has been quite successful.

It doesn't seem to matter whether the cancer is identified as breast, colon, lung, prostate, cervical, or one of many other cancers. The process is the same. Current trials are in very early stages, testing safety and finding a dose that is effective in humans. Small numbers of people with a variety of cancers will be carefully monitored while the treatment is tested in clinical trials.

Don’t expect an FDA approved drug very soon, but the implications are positive. If one medication can treat up to half of all cancers it would have a major effect on costs, treatments, and results. Stay tuned.

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To put a smile on your face see Larry's latest cartoon.
To learn more about clinical trials, take a look at our book.

(c) 2012 Tom Beer and Larry Axmaker

Apr 3, 2013

Myths and truths about cancer clinical trials

Myth #1—Cures already exist for many cancers but drug companies are keeping them under wraps in order to make even higher profits when they are released or to profit from current less effective drugs.

Truth #1—You gotta be kidding! The world drug market is large and very competitive and no pharmaceutical company is going to give up a chance to market a great product. Holding back could give other companies a chance to develop and market a similar drug.

Myth #2—Many experimental cancer drugs in the U.S. have already been tested and approved in other countries.

Truth #2—Sometimes drugs ARE available first in other countries. But the U.S. is by far the world leader in cancer research and new drugs are more often than not available to Americans first.

Myth #3—If I join a clinical trial, whether it is successful or not, I’ll be disqualified from ever participating in a trial again.

Truth #3—Nope. Many people with cancer participate in two, three, or more trials in their lifetime. This author (LWA) has participated in three clinical trials and is considering a fourth. Your previous history, including clinical trials, could be considered when you apply for a new clinical trial. Do your homework and make sure joining a trial is in your best interests.

Misconception #4—In almost all cases, drug testing can be done in test-tubes, with animals, and by computer simulations. Testing on humans is seldom necessary.

Answer #4—Don’t we all wish! It would certainly be faster and cheaper if people were not needed in the drug approval process. But, in fact, testing on humans is currently the only way to determine proper dosages, the effects of side effects, and whether or not the drug actually cures or manages cancer.

Myth #5—Drug companies pay hospitals and doctors a lot of money to ensure they get the best possible results from clinical trials. The better the results, the higher the payments.

Truth #5—The pharmaceutical companies often pay for some or most of the costs of a clinical trial. These payments are never linked to the results of the trial.  And, at the end of the day, academic centers do not make a profit on clinical research.  There are several layers of safeguards to make sure trials are conducted scientifically and accurately.

Myth #6—Most clinical trials only accept participants who have the least serious and dangerous types of the cancer being tested in the trial in order to improve the chances of getting good results.

Truth #6—Cancer treatment drugs are developed for all levels and stages of cancer. Some trials, however, may exclude patients with serious heart, lung, kidney, or liver diseases to protect them from unknown side effects. After a drug is proven successful and safe, these high-risk people may be included in further studies.

To put a smile on your face see Larry's latest cartoon.
To learn more about clinical trials, take a look at our book.

(c) 2012 Tom Beer and Larry Axmaker