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Twin-drug combo effectively shrinks lung cancers by blocking their "escape route"

Published on 04/04/18 at 09:46am
Compared to tumours which received a single or no treatment (top rows), the combination therapy was shown to much more effectively shrink tumours (bottom row). Credit: UT Southwestern

A study conducted by researchers at UT Southwestern’s Simmons Cancer Center has revealed that a combination of two specific drug varieties may offer an effective treatment for most kinds of lung cancer by blocking their use of the cytokine tumour necrosis factor (TNF) as an “escape route”.

As demonstrated in a mouse model, the combination of drugs which target both TNF and epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) prevent a tumour from being able to use this escape route, and while TNF is blocked the tumour also becomes more sensitive to EGFR treatment. As the combination only includes targeted drugs, it also offers far less side-effects when compared to traditional treatments such as chemotherapy.

“There has been a tremendous effort over the past several years to block EGFR as a treatment for lung cancer, but this therapy only works in a small subset of patients. The cancer fights back with a bypass pathway," explained senior author Dr Amyn Habib with the Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center at UT Southwestern and a staff physician at the Dallas Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

While EGFR inhibitors have only been successful so far in treating around 10-15% of EGFR-variant non-small cell lung cancers, the combination is expected to be potentially effective against all kinds of NSCLC.

The same combination was shown to be effective in mouse models in treating the brain cancer glioblastoma in previous studies led by Dr Habib. Because both drugs in the combination are already approved by the FDA, the team hope to move this new study to Phase 2 trials within a year to evaluate the combination’s efficacy in treating lung cancer and glioblastoma.

"If this strategy is effective, then it might be broadly applicable not only against lung cancer but also against other cancers that express EGFR, which include brain, colon, and head and neck cancers," said Dr. Gerber, Associate Professor of Internal Medicine and Clinical Sciences, who will lead the trial.

Matt Fellows

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