January 25, 2011

Weill Develops Alternative Cancer Treatment

Print More

For patients suffering from cancer, learning their body is resistant to traditional therapy can be devastating. For patients diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a type of blood cancer,  malignant plasma cells are overproduced in the bone marrow.  A clinical trial investigation of an experiment drug available only at Weill Cornell Medical Center (WCMC) may give them the chance of survival that other treatments could not provide.

In 2010, there were an estimated 20,000 new diagnoses and 11,000 deaths from multiple myeloma. The disease is caused by abnormalities in the plasma cells contained in the blood. After a plasma cell becomes abnormal, it divides to make copies of itself, making more myeloma cells, which collect in the bone marrow, and may eventually damage the solid part of the bone.

Symptoms of multiple myeloma may include bone pain (usually in the back and ribs), broken bones (usually in the spine), feeling weak and very tired, feeling very thirsty, frequent infections and fevers, weight loss, nausea or constipation, and frequent urination.

While traditional cancer treatments like chemotherapy and radiation are usually administered to myeloma patients, the cancer can be resistant to the drugs used during the procedures, like the drug lenalidomide. Patients with the disease who had been unsuccessfully treated with different drugs with very little if any success, now have the opportunity to try an experimental drug called pomalidomide at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/WCMC.

“Patients often become resistant to thalidomide or lenalidomide treatment, so pomalidomide may offer them a new treatment option, if proven to be effective,” explains Dr. Ruben Niesvizky, the study’s principal investigator, associate professor of medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College, and director of the Multiple Myeloma Service at the Center of Excellence for Lymphoma and Myeloma at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center.

Pomalidomide, developed by Celgene Corportation, is an immuno-modulatory agent that stimulates the patient’s own immune system to fight off cancer cells. The drug is taken in pill form and can target the microenvironment of the cancer cell, not just the malignant cell itself — a characteristic unique to pomalidomide.

The trial involves another drug as well. Along with pomalidomide, patients who are enrolled in the trial are also given an antibiotic called Biaxin and a steroid called Decadron. Both act to kill multiple-myeloma cancer cells, and are also administered as pills.

“This trial is the only study in the United States evaluating pomalidomide in combination with Biaxin for multiple-myeloma patients who have failed three or more previous therapies,” Niesvizky said.

Niesvizky hopes that the drug will be effective, because is a variation of thalidomide, which has already been shown to be effective in treating multiple myeloma. The difference between the two is that the new drug compound is believed to have less toxicity for patients because of its potentially lower risk of neuropathy, which damages the central nervous system, causing chronic pain.

Original Author: Maria Minsker