American Association for Cancer Research

AACR Press Releases

Epigenetic Therapy Shows Promise in Hard-to-treat Lung Cancer


November 9, 2011

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  • Therapy extended median survival to 6.4 months.
  • Two patients are alive four years after start of epigenetic treatment.
PHILADELPHIA — Patients with recurrent metastatic non-small cell lung cancer have a morbid prognosis, but a new epigenetic therapy may have potential for this population, according to data published in Cancer Discovery, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research.

A research team at Johns Hopkins University tested a combination epigenetic therapy of azacitidine and entinostat among 45 patients with recurrent metastatic non-small cell lung cancer who had been heavily pretreated with other therapies but showed no response. Each patient received azacitidine on nine days and entinostat on two days per month. The trial had an “open-label” design, in which all patients received the treatment and there was no control group receiving a placebo.

Researchers found a median survival of 6.4 months with treatment, where the typical survival for this patient population is four months. Patients who showed signs of gene methylation reversal in at least two of four key genes had better survival than the rest, and two patients experienced dramatic tumor shrinkages.

Four of the 19 patients who received subsequent anticancer therapies had a major objective response to immediate subsequent treatment with other agents. Seven patients remain alive, including two who began treatment approximately four years ago.

“We are starting to show traction for epigenetic therapy for one of the most difficult-to-treat tumors,” said Stephen A. Baylin, M.D., professor and deputy director of the Kimmel Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins University and leader of the Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C) Epigenetics Dream Team. “This study appears to show the first durable successes in solid tumors with epigenetic therapy.”

This drug combination has previously shown efficacy among patients with leukemia.

“We hope these results lead to a larger, more definitive clinical trial of this drug combination,” said Charles Rudin, M.D., Ph.D., professor of oncology and director of the Upper Aerodigestive Cancer Program at Hopkins’ Kimmel Cancer Center. Rudin led the team of physicians and cancer biologists who conducted the study.

This research is funded in part by SU2C, a Specialized Programs of Research Excellence (SPORE) grant from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the Flight Attendant Medical Research Institute.

“This research would not have been possible, especially at this accelerated pace, without Stand Up To Cancer,” said Baylin. “Our SU2C Dream Team has benefitted enormously from the initiative’s vision and visibility. The funding helps leverage other support mechanisms, like our SPORE grant from the NCI, which could never separately fund a trial of this magnitude and scope. It has enabled incredibly fruitful collaborations and allowed us, most importantly, to make a real difference in peoples’ lives.”

Portions of this release have been provided by Johns Hopkins.

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The mission of the American Association for Cancer Research is to prevent and cure cancer. Founded in 1907, the AACR is the world’s oldest and largest professional organization dedicated to advancing cancer research. The membership includes 33,000 laboratory, translational and clinical researchers; health care professionals; and cancer survivors and advocates in the United States and more than 90 other countries. The AACR marshals the full spectrum of expertise from the cancer community to accelerate progress in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer through high-quality scientific and educational programs. It funds innovative, meritorious research grants, research fellowships and career development awards to young investigators, and it also funds cutting-edge research projects conducted by senior researchers. The AACR has numerous fruitful collaborations with organizations and foundations in the United States and abroad, and functions as the Scientific Partner of Stand Up To Cancer, a charitable initiative that supports groundbreaking research aimed at getting new cancer treatments to patients in an accelerated time frame. The AACR Annual Meeting attracts more than 17,000 participants who share the latest discoveries and developments in the field. Special Conferences throughout the year present novel data across a wide variety of topics in cancer research, treatment and patient care, and Educational Workshops are held for the training of young cancer investigators. The AACR publishes seven major peer-reviewed journals: Cancer Discovery; Cancer Research; Clinical Cancer Research; Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention; Molecular Cancer Therapeutics; Molecular Cancer Research; and Cancer Prevention Research. In 2010, AACR journals received 20 percent of the total number of citations given to oncology journals. The AACR also publishes Cancer Today, a magazine for cancer patients, survivors and their caregivers, which provides practical knowledge and new hope for cancer survivors. A major goal of the AACR is to educate the general public and policymakers about the value of cancer research in improving public health, the vital importance of increases in sustained funding for cancer research and biomedical science, and the need for national policies that foster innovation and the acceleration of progress against the 200 diseases we call cancer.

About Stand Up To Cancer

Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C) — a program of the Entertainment Industry Foundation (EIF), a 501(c)(3) charitable organization — raises funds to accelerate the pace of groundbreaking translational research that will get new therapies to patients quickly.

SU2C’s “Dream Team” approach to funding translational cancer research enables scientists from different disciplines at research centers across the country and internationally to collaborate on projects geared toward getting new, less toxic treatments to patients as quickly as possible. Monies also support innovative cancer research projects that are often deemed “too risky” by conventional funding sources. Currently, 355 scientists from 55 institutions are involved in SU2C-funded research projects — either as members of Dream Teams or as recipients of Innovative Research Grants. As SU2C’s scientific collaborator, the American Association for Cancer Research, led by a prestigious SU2C Scientific Advisory Committee, provides scientific oversight, expert review of the research projects and grants administration.

Members of the SU2C Executive Leadership Council include Katie Couric; the Entertainment Industry Foundation, represented by Board of Directors Chairperson Sherry Lansing (Founder of the Sherry Lansing Foundation), CEO Lisa Paulsen and Senior Vice President Kathleen Lobb; Rusty Robertson and Sue Schwartz of the Robertson Schwartz Agency; Pam Williams, partner at Laura Ziskin Productions; and nonprofit executive Ellen Ziffren. The late Laura Ziskin, a legendary film producer who executive produced the 2008 and 2010 SU2C telecasts, was also a co-founder of Stand Up To Cancer.

Media Contact:
Jeremy Moore
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Jeremy.Moore@aacr.org