Smoking May Actually Prime Lung Cells for Cancer

Cancer Research News
Cancer Research News

The link between cigarette smoking and increased risk of lung cancer is well-established. Recent studies are giving researchers more insight into the causes of the connection as well as possible methods of treatment.

What Causes Genetic Abnormalities?

Gene behavior is driven by DNA code, but it can also be affected by other external factors. These events, such as those brought on by exposure to cigarette smoke, are known as epigenetic changes.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center in Baltimore grew human bronchial cells, the same type that line airways in the lungs, and bathed them daily with a liquid form of cigarette smoke. This procedure went on for 15 months, making it the equivalent of smoking one to two packs of cigarettes a day for 20 to 30 years.

How Smoking “Primes” Cells for DNA Damage

After only 10 days, the smoke-exposed cells sustained more DNA damage than unexposed cells. Over the next three months, the exposed cells showed a significant increase in EZH2, which is a hormone that silences genes.

EZH2 is also a precursor to methylation, in which tiny methyl groups are added to the start of a gene’s DNA code. As a result, tumor suppression genes are silenced and thereby unable to prevent the uncontrolled cell growth of cancer. Smokers who quit show a lower level of methylation, which can decrease their risk of cancer.

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Is the Cost of R&D for Cancer Medications Overstated?

Are Costs Overstated for Cancer Research?
Are Costs Overstated for Cancer Medication Research?

Significant research and development (R&D) costs are often the main reason cited for steep prices on cancer treatments. Surprisingly, a study centered on 10 new cancer drugs suggests that these costs may have been greatly overstated.

The True Costs of Cancer Treatment R&D?

Results of the study, which was recently published in JAMA Internal Medicine, determined that the R&D process for a new cancer drug usually spans seven years, with an average total cost between $648 million and $794 million.

On its face, the numbers are huge, but relatively small compared to the yardstick used by pharmaceutical companies. Their measure is the staggering figure of $2.7 billion per drug, which was determined by a Tufts University study in 2016.

Cost vs. Benefit

Even more revealing was the assessment of sales generated by the 10 drugs evaluated in the study. After an average of four years on the market, the drugs had a combined total of $67 billion in revenue, which is seven times more than the aggregate of the R&D costs.

As expected, members of the pharmaceutical industry are taking exception with the report. Dr. J. Leonard Lichtenfeld, deputy chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society, took no official position but felt that the study would prompt wider discussion on the issue.

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University of California Creates a Cancer Consortium for Research

Cancer Consortium Conference
Cancer Consortium Research Conference

There’s power in numbers, and the University of California is leveraging that concept to fight the battle against cancer. In September, the school announced that its five academic cancer centers are aligning to form a cancer research consortium.

Strength Through Teamwork

The partnership is made up of UC branches in Davis, Irvine, San Francisco, San Diego and Los Angeles. UC officials and researchers hope that the new consortium, believed to be the largest ever formed by a U.S. public university system, will enable larger clinical trials of cancer immunotherapy and other treatments across a wider spectrum.

The announcement has particular resonance in California, where cancer is on the verge of overtaking heart disease as the leading cause of death. It also has personal meaning for UC President Janet Napolitano, who was diagnosed with cancer in 2000 and again in 2016.

Cancer Research at the University of California

Currently, the five UC cancer centers treat 16 percent of cancer patients in California, with nearly half of them in late-stage cancer. In addition, the centers have administered more than 1,600 clinical trials over the last year, moving the top therapies along the road to FDA approval.

According to Paula Aspiazu of the American Cancer Society, their organization provides $23 million in funding to the UC system. Aspiazu pointed out that the consortium means each center can now draw data from a larger pool rather than only their own specific group.

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More Medications Focus on Immunotherapy to Combat Lung Cancer

Join Us in the Fight Against Lung Cancer
Join Us in the Fight Against Lung Cancer

As immunotherapy becomes an increasingly significant factor in cancer treatment, major pharmaceutical companies are scrambling to get their own piece of the pie. One of the minor players has seemingly vaulted ahead of the competition by targeting a niche segment of the market that had been largely overlooked.

AstraZeneca’s Second Chance for Success

AstraZeneca made a bold but risky move by going all-in on their pair of immuno-oncology drugs (IO) designed to treat lung cancer. The combo turned out to be a major failure, which seemed to spell doom for the company.

Surprisingly, trial results presented at a recent European cancer conference seem to indicate a turnaround for Astra’s fortunes. Imfinzi, the lead drug in their IO duo, has proven to be more successful in treating patients with mid-stage lung cancer.

Blazing New Trails in Cancer Treatment

Most pharmaceutical companies concentrate on late-stage lung cancer, which represents a greater share of the market. Focusing on the under-served mid-stage lung cancer segment gives Astra the chance for modest but substantial sales growth outside the shadow of competitors such as industry leader Merck & Co.

According to experts, pharmaceutical industries are so fearful of losing business that they tend to stay in the same lane as their competitors. The experts believe that a company has a greater chance of success as a pioneer in an area with little activity.

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New Treatment for Cancers Linked to BRCA Mutations

New Research for Breast Cancer Studies Genes
New Research for Cancer Studies Genes

Identification of Breast Cancer genetic mutations was a breakthrough for scientists working on cancer testing and treatment. Recent findings show that a new form of cancer treatment can effectively extend progression-free survival in patients with BRCA-related tumors.

PARP Inhibitors and BRCA-Related Cancers

PARP inhibitors make up a new class of cancer drugs that have been used primarily in a narrow application for women with ovarian and related forms of cancer. As presented at the European Society of Medical Oncology (ESMO) in Madrid last September, recent trial results open up possibilities of other uses.

The ARIEL-3 trial, sponsored by Clovis Oncology, involved 564 patients who received randomized doses of a placebo or Rubraca, a PARP inhibitor manufactured by Clovis. Rubraca was found to help women who had ovarian cancer both with and without BRCA mutations.

While Rubraca’s greatest effectiveness was in cases involving BRCA mutations, it also had a positive effect on some with other markers of impaired DNA repair. This condition is referred to as genomic scarring or BRCA-ness, related to a deficiency in homologous recombination repair (HRD).

Future Uses of PARP Inhibitors

Rubraca is currently approved in the U.S. for treatment of advanced BRCA-positive ovarian cancer. Based on the trial results, Clovis has applied for FDA approval of broader applications of Rubraca, including maintenance treatment. Researchers are hopeful that benefits will eventually extend to breast, pancreatic and prostate cancer.

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Cancer Patients – The Struggle to Understand Clinical Trial Opportunities

Cancer Patients Can Struggle to Understand if a Clinical Trial is Right for Them
Cancer Patients Can Struggle to Understand if a Clinical Trial is Right for Them

Clinical trials are essential for continued development of immunotherapy and other cancer treatment methods. A recent study shows that while cancer patients recognize the importance of clinical trials, they lack the same understanding about the concepts behind the process.

What Is the Public Conception of Clinical Trials?

Oncologist Catherine Kelly of Mater Misericordiae University Hospital in Dublin led a study involving 1,090 cancer patients being treated in centers across Ireland. Kelly presented the results at the September meeting of the European Society of Medical Oncology (ESMO) in Madrid.

Despite the fact that more than 25 percent of the subjects had previously participated in clinical trials, misunderstanding of central concepts was widespread throughout the responses.

  • Nearly three-quarters of those who had never taken part in a clinical trial didn’t understand that the types of treatment are randomly assigned. Surprisingly, this also applied to more than half of the patients who had participated in trials.
  • Most patients didn’t understand the concept of clinical equipoise, in which no one knows which of the treatments being tested is better. With previous clinical trial participants, an astonishing 60 percent believed that their doctor knew which treatment was better.

Why Understanding of Clinical Trials Matters

Results of this study were consistent with those from earlier studies. Kelly pointed out the need for doctors to address these misconceptions that instill fear in patients, preventing them from participating in trials.

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