Rush studying antiangiogenic therapy to treat metastatic breast cancer

April 10, 2001

Breast cancer researchers at Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center in Chicago have begun testing a new therapy that targets the blood vessels that feed breast cancer tumors.

This new antiangiogenic therapy, called rhuMAb VEGF (recombinant humanized monoclonal antibody to vascular endothelial growth factor) seeks to block cancer's ability to form new blood vessels that feed the tumor.

Antiangiogenic therapy is a relatively new form of cancer treatment using drugs called angiogenesis inhibitors' that specifically halt new blood vessel growth and starve a tumor by cutting off its blood supply.

"If a tumor develops but has no blood supply, it will typically only grow to the size of a small pea," said principle investigator Dr. Melody Cobleigh, director of the Comprehensive Breast Center at Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center in Chicago.

However, if the tumor is not detected and treated, eventually a few cancer cells gain the ability to produce proteins known as angiogenic growth factors. These 'growth factors' are released by the tumor into nearby tissues and they stimulate new blood vessels to sprout from existing healthy blood vessels, into the tumor. The tumor is then able to rapidly expand in size.

Patients enrolled in the trial at Rush will be randomly assigned to one of two treatment groups: one group will receive chemotherapy that is known to work against breast cancer. Another group will receive rhuMAb VEGF intravenously and chemotherapy.

RhuMAb VEGF was studied in women with breast cancer who had worsened on chemotherapy. Those early studies produced promising results. Researchers hope that by combining it with chemotherapy, they will get a better result than by using chemotherapy alone. The chemotherapy will attack the tumor while the rhuMAb VEGF will squeeze its blood supply.

Currently, approximately 20 anti-angiogenesis inhibitors are being tested in human cancer patients in clinical trials but there are no such drugs approved for clinical use by the Food and Drug Administration. Approximately 6,500 patients have taken one of these anti-angiogenic drugs to treat cancer.

Anti-angiogenesis inhibitors are also promising, according to the National Cancer Institute, because they are not as likely to cause bone marrow suppression, gastrointestinal symptoms, or hair loss -- symptoms characteristic of standard chemotherapy treatments. Additionally, these therapies target normal endothelial cells, which are genetically stable, so drug resistance may not develop. So far, resistance has not been a major problem in long-term animal studies or in preliminary clinical trials.
For more information about angiogenesis inhibitors, visit the National Cancer Insitutes' webpage at:

Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center includes the 809-bed Presbyterian-St. Luke's Hospital; 154-bed Johnston R. Bowman Health Center for the Elderly; Rush University (Rush Medical College, College of Nursing, College of Health Sciences and Graduate College); and seven Rush Institutes providing diagnosis, treatment and research into leading health problems. The medical center is the tertiary hub of the Rush System for Health, a comprehensive healthcare system capable of serving about two million people through its outpatient facilities and five member hospitals.

Rush University Medical Center

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