This is an exciting time in cancer research. Recent information on angiogenesis — the growth of new blood vessels — is providing researchers opportunities to find new ways to slow or stop a tumor’s growth by cutting off the blood supply it needs.
Angiogenesis performs a critical role in the development of cancer. To grow, solid tumors need oxygen and nutrients provided by new blood vessels. Once a vascular network has been generated, cancer cells can also invade the rest of the body, a process called metastasis. Currently, researchers believe that more than 90 percent of all cancer cases are angiogenesis-dependent.
The good news is that a novel class of drugs, which acts as angiogenesis inhibitors, shows great potential in fighting more than 20 different diseases, including many types of cancer.
These “anti-angiogenesis” drugs being developed and tested block the formation of new blood vessels, starving cancerous cells and stopping tumor growth. One drug being tested, Neovastat, was discovered in 1994 and is derived from cartilage tissue. Neovastat is the only angiogenesis inhibitor being developed in the biotechnology and pharmaceutical universe that has four mechanisms of action to combat blood vessel growth. Furthermore, Neovastat is taken orally, making it convenient for patients who need long-term treatment, and it has shown minimal side effects in clinical trials. This means that unlike standard chemotherapy, Neovastat is not likely to interfere with a patient’s immune system, or cause adverse gastrointestinal symptoms or hair loss.
In addition, because most cancer cells are genetically unstable and more prone to mutations, resistance is a major problem with many chemotherapy agents. But since anti-angiogenesis drugs target normal endothelial cells that are not genetically unstable, drug resistance is less likely to develop and has not been a problem so far in clinical trials.
Another hope is that angiogenesis inhibitors can be used in combination with therapies that directly target tumor cells. Because anti-angiogenic drugs and chemotherapy are aimed at different cellular targets, it is possible that the combination will prove even more effective than either therapy is as a stand-alone.
Currently, Neovastat is the subject of three clinical trials, targeting three forms of cancer for which there are urgent needs for new therapies. For multiple myeloma, the second most common form of blood cancer, the drug is in phase two trials with 125 patients in the United States, Canada and Europe. This trial should be completed by the end of 2002. For progressive renal cell carcinoma, the drug is in phase three trials with 280 patients in the United States, Canada and Europe, which should be completed in early 2003. For non-small cell lung cancer, Neovastat is in a phase three trial sponsored by the National Cancer Institute with 760 patients in the United States and Canada. This trial should be completed in 2005.
Once the clinical trials are complete, health authorities in various countries can then assess test results and make decisions on approval.
Neovastat is being developed by Aeterna Laboratories of Quebec, Canada. For more information about current trials, call (888) 349-3232. If you are an oncologist, contact Claude Hariton, PhD, vice president of Clinical and Regulatory Affairs, (418) 652-8525, Ext. 306.
To learn more about anti-angiogenesis and Aeterna Laboratories, visit the Aeterna Web site at www.aeterna.com. For more information about the NCI’s clinical trials, visit http://cancertrials.nci.nih.gov.
About The Author