Dana Farber Webchat: The Latest in Ovarian Cancer Treatment & Research

The latest developments in ovarian cancer treatment and research are addressed in the video below via a Dana-Farber Cancer Institute webchat that was conducted on September 16, 2014.

The Susan F. Smith Center for Women’s Cancers at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute conducted a live video webchat panel with Ursula Matulonis, M.D., medical director of the Gynecologic Oncology Program, and gynecologic oncologists Panos Konstantinopoulos, M.D., Ph.D., and Susana Campos, M.D., MPH. The live webchat was held on September 16, 2014.

The general webchat topics addressed by the Dana-Farber doctors are listed below. For your convenience, we also provided the approximate video start time associated with each discussion topic. The entire video runs 49 minutes and 20 seconds.

  • Various types/subtypes of ovarian cancer and treatment differences. [1:40 minutes]
  • CA-125 and other ovarian cancer biomarkers. [5:10 minutes]
  • Areas of ongoing ovarian cancer research. [9:28 minutes]
  • Ovarian cancer treatment alternatives to standard of care chemotherapy. [13:55 minutes]
  • PARP Inhibitors & Immunotherapy. [15:03 minutes]
  • Mechanisms to reverse platinum drug resistance. [17:15 minutes]
  • Correlation between ovarian cancer and HPV (Human papillomavirus). [19:30 minutes]
  • The use of clinical trials for the treatment of ovarian cancer. [19:43 minutes]
  • Stage 1 ovarian cancer prognosis. [21:47 minutes]
  • Gene mutations related to hereditary ovarian cancer risk. [22:55 minutes]
  • Treatment options for platinum drug refractory/resistant ovarian cancer. [25:27 minutes]
  • Treatment of BRCA gene-mutated ovarian cancer patients. [27:50 minutes]
  • Ovarian cancer prevention. [30:18 minutes]
  • Promising treatments for ovarian clear cell cancer. [31:43 minutes]
  • Proper nutrition during and after ovarian cancer treatment. [33:47 minutes]
  • Symptoms associated with an ovarian cancer recurrence. [35:06 minutes]
  • Ovarian neuroendocrine cancer. [36:16 minutes]
  • Small-cell ovarian cancer. [39:22 minutes]
  • Origin of ovarian cancer. [42:41 minutes]
  • Treatment options for isolated or limited recurrent ovarian cancer tumors/lesions. [45:26 minutes]
  • Closing: Most Exciting Ovarian Cancer Developments. [47:07 minutes]

 

Ovarian Cancer Tumors Can Grow For Ten Years Or More Before Being Detected By Today’s Blood Tests

A new mathematical model developed by Stanford University School of Medicine scientists finds that ovarian cancer tumors can grow for 10 years or longer before currently available blood tests will detect them.

A new mathematical model developed by Stanford University School of Medicine scientists indicates that tumors can grow for 10 years or longer before currently available blood tests will detect them. The analysis, which was restricted to ovarian cancer tumors but is broadly applicable across all solid tumor types, was published online November 16 in Science Translational Medicine.

“The study’s results can be viewed as both bad and good news,” said Sanjiv “Sam” Gambhir, M.D., Ph.D., professor and chair of radiology and the study’s senior author. Sharon Hori, Ph.D., a postdoctoral scholar in Dr. Gambhir’s laboratory, is the lead study author.

The mathematical model developed by Dr. Sam Gambhir’s lab shows that it would be possible to detect tumors years before they grow big enough to metastasize if researchers can develop the right biomarkers.

The bad news, as explained by Dr. Gambhir, is that by time a tumor reaches a detectable size using today’s available blood tests, it is likely to have metastasized to other areas of the body, making it much more deadly than if it had been caught earlier. “The good news is that we have, potentially, 10 or even 20 years to find the tumor before it reaches this size, if only we can improve our blood-based methods of detecting tumors,” said Dr. Gambhir. “We think our mathematical model will help guide attempts to do that.”

The study advances previous research about the limits of current detection methods. For instance, it is strikingly consistent with a finding reported two years ago by Stanford biochemistry professor Patrick Brown, M.D., Ph.D., that current ovarian cancer tests could not detect tumors early enough to make a significant dent in the mortality rate. There is a push to develop more-sensitive diagnostic tests and find better biomarkers, and Dr. Gambhir’s new model could be an essential tool in this effort. For the first time, the new model connects the size of a tumor with blood biomarker levels being shed by that tumor.

To create their model, Drs. Gambhir and Hori used mathematical models originally developed to predict the concentration of drugs injected into the blood. The investigators linked these to additional models of tumor cell growth.

Tumors do not secrete drugs, but they can shed telltale molecules into surrounding tissue, from which those substances, known as “biomarkers,” diffuse into the blood. Some biomarkers may be made predominantly by tumor cells.  These substances can be measured in the blood as proxies for a tumor.

Some biomarkers are in wide use today. One is the well-known PSA (prostate specific antigen) for prostate cancer. Another example of a biomarker is CA-125 (cancer antigen 125) for ovarian cancer. But these and other currently used blood tests for cancer biomarkers were not specifically developed for early detection, and are generally more effective for relatively noninvasive monitoring of the progress of a late-stage tumor or tumor response to treatment. That is, rising blood levels of the substance may indicate that the tumor is growing, while declining levels may indicate possible tumor shrinkage.

Both CA-125 and PSA are also produced, albeit in smaller amounts, by healthy tissue, complicating efforts to detect cancer at an early stage when the tumor’s output of the biomarker is relatively low.

The new mathematical model employs separate equations, each governing the movement of a biomarker from one compartment into the next. Into these equations, one can plug known values — such as how fast a particular type of tumor grows, how much of the biomarker a tumor cell of this type sheds per hour, and the minimum levels of the biomarker that must be present in the blood for a currently available assay to detect it.

As a test case, Drs. Gambhir and Hori chose CA-125, a well-studied biomarker which is shed into the blood by ovarian cancer tumors. Ovarian cancer is a notorious example of a condition for which early detection would make a significant difference in survival outcomes.

CA-125 is a protein made almost exclusively by ovarian tumor cells. The well-known pharmacokinetics, metabolic fates (typical amounts secreted by an ovarian cell), typical ovarian tumor growth rates, and other properties of CA-125 make the biomarker an excellent candidate for “road testing” with Gambhir and Hori’s model. CA-125 is by no means the ideal biomarker, said Dr. Gambhir, while noting that it can still be used to better understand the ideal properties of biomarkers for early ovarian cancer detection.

Applying their equations to CA-125, Drs. Gambhir and Hori determined that an ovarian cancer tumor would need to reach a size of approximately 1.7 billion cells, or the volume of a cube with a 2-centimeter edge, before the currently available CA-125 blood test could reliably detect it. At typical tumor-growth rates, it would take a single cancer cell approximately 10.1 to 12.6 years of development to become a tumor containing 1.7 billion cells.

The model further calculated that a biomarker otherwise equivalent to CA125 — but shed only by ovarian tumor cells — would allow reliable detection within 7.7 years, while the tumor’s size would be that of a tiny cube about one-sixth of an inch high.

In the last decade, many potential new biomarkers for different forms of cancers have been identified. There’s no shortage of promising candidates — six for lung cancer alone, for example. But validating a biomarker in large clinical trials is a long, expensive process. So it is imperative to determine as efficiently as possible which, among many potential tumor biomarkers, is the best prospective candidate.

“This [mathematical] model could take some of the guesswork out of it,” Gambhir said. He also stated:

“It [the mathematical model] can be applied to all kinds of solid cancers and prospective biomarkers as long as we have enough data on, for instance, how much of it a tumor cell secretes per hour, how long the biomarker can circulate before it’s degraded and how quickly tumor cells divide. We can tweak one or another variable — for instance, whether a biomarker is also made in healthy tissues or just the tumor, or assume we could manage to boost the sensitivity of our blood tests by 10-fold or 100-fold — and see how much it advances our ability to detect the tumor earlier on.”

There are new detection technologies capable of detecting biomarkers at concentrations as low as a few hundred molecules per milliliter (1-cubic centimeter) of blood. In 2009, Dr. Gambhir and his colleagues reported on one such developing technology: “magneto-nanosensors” that can detect biomarkers with a 100-fold greater sensitivity than current methods.

Better biomarker detection alone might allow ovarian cancer tumor detection at the 9-year point, said Gambhir.

A second priority is to come up with new and better biomarkers. “It’s really important for us to find biomarkers that are made exclusively by tumor cells,” Dr. Gambhir said.

Under the right conditions (a highly sensitive assay measuring levels of a biomarker that is shed only by cancer cells), Gambhir stated, the model predicts that a tiny tumor with a volume equivalent to a cube less than one-fifteenth of an inch (or 1.7 millimeters) on a side could be detected.

Dr. Gambhir is also the Virginia and D.K. Ludwig Professor in Cancer Research and director of the Molecular Imaging Program at Stanford, the director of the Canary Center at Stanford for Cancer Early Detection, and a member of the Stanford Cancer Institute.

The study was funded by the Canary Foundation and the National Cancer Institute.

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2011 ASCO: Screening With CA-125 & Transvaginal Ultrasound Does Not Reduce Ovarian Cancer Death Rate, Results in High Number of False Positives

Findings from a large, long-term study – the Prostate, Lung, Colorectal and Ovarian (PLCO) Screening Trial – showed that using a CA-125 blood test and transvaginal ultrasound for early detection of ovarian cancer did not reduce the risk of dying from the disease, and resulted in a large number of false positives and related follow-up procedures.

ASCO Releases Studies From Upcoming Annual Meeting – Important Advances in Targeted Therapies, Screening, and Personalized Medicine

The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) today highlighted several studies in a press briefing from among more than 4,000 abstracts publicly posted online at http://www.asco.org in advance of ASCO’s 47th Annual Meeting. An additional 17 plenary, late-breaking and other major studies will be released in on-site press conferences at the Annual Meeting.

The meeting, which is expected to draw approximately 30,000 cancer specialists, will be held June 3-7, 2011, at McCormick Place in Chicago, Ill. The theme of this year’s meeting is “Patients. Pathways. Progress.”

“This year marks the 40th anniversary of the signing of the National Cancer Act, a law that led to major new investments in cancer research. Every day in our offices, and every year at the ASCO meeting, we see the results of those investments. People with cancer are living longer, with a better quality of life, than ever before,” said George W. Sledge Jr., M.D., President of ASCO, Ballve-Lantero Professor of Oncology and professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at the Indiana University School of Medicine.

“With our growing understanding of the nature of cancer development and behavior, cancer is becoming a chronic disease that a growing number of patients can live with for many years,” said Dr. Sledge. “The studies released today are the latest examples of progress against the disease, from new personalized treatments, to new approaches to screening and prevention.”

The study results from a large clinical trial involving ovarian cancer screening were highlighted in today’s press briefing as summarized below.

Screening with CA-125 and Transvaginal Ultrasound Does Not Reduce Ovarian Cancer Death Rate, Results in High Number of False Positives

A randomized, multicenter screening study of nearly 80,000 women in the general population showed that using a CA-125 blood test and transvaginal ultrasound for early detection of ovarian cancer did not reduce the risk of dying from the disease, and resulted in a large number of false positives and related biopsies and follow-up procedures. The results indicate that while these tests are widely and appropriately used to evaluate symptoms, and to gauge disease status and effectiveness of treatment in women already diagnosed with ovarian cancer, they are not useful in screening the general population.

Saundra S. Buys, M.D., Medical Director, Huntsman Cancer Institute’s High Risk Breast Cancer Clinic; Professor, Depart. of Internal Medicine, Univ. of Utah School of Medicine

“There hasn’t been a good method for the early detection of ovarian cancer, and our hypothesis was that CA-125 and transvaginal ultrasound, which are useful in measuring disease, would also identify ovarian cancer early, at a stage in which it is more likely to be cured,” said lead author Saundra Buys, M.D., professor of medicine at the University of Utah and Huntsman Cancer Institute in Salt Lake City. “The results were disappointing, but not necessarily surprising. The study shows that the available tests are not effective and may actually cause harm because of the high number of false positives. These results point to the continued need for more precise and effective screening tools for this disease.”

In the Prostate, Lung, Colorectal and Ovarian Cancer Screening Trial, 78,216 women ages 55 to 74 were assigned to either annual screening (39,105 women) or usual care (39,111 women) between 1993 and 2001. Women in the screening arm were offered annual CA-125 testing for six years and transvaginal ultrasound for four, and followed for up to 13 years. Those in the usual care arm were not offered the screening tests.

The results showed no statistically significant difference in ovarian cancer cases or mortality between the two arms. Ovarian cancer was diagnosed in 212 women in the screening group arm compared to 176 in the usual care arm; 118 women in the screening arm died from ovarian cancer, while 100 died from ovarian cancer in the usual care group.

Among women in the screening arm, there were a high number of false positives – 3,285 false positives, compared to just 212 true positives. Of women who had a false positive test, 1,080 underwent surgery for biopsy – the procedure generally required to evaluate positive test results; 163 of them had serious complications.

The authors emphasized that the study results don’t apply to screening women with symptoms or abnormal findings on physical examination. [emphasis added] Physical examination based on symptoms and appropriate follow-up testing remains the best available approach for ovarian cancer detection.

[Note: This summary contains updated data and a correction from the original abstract. Correction:  Of the 3,285 women who received a false positive exam, 1,080 underwent surgery. Of those surgical patients, 163 encountered at least one serious complication.]

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OVA1 Blood Test Detects Ovarian Cancer In Women With A Known Ovarian Mass More Accurately Than CA-125

A study published online in Obstetrics & Gynecology reports that the OVA1 blood test detects ovarian cancer in women with a previously discovered ovarian mass more accurately than the CA-125 blood test. The study also considers OVA1’s place in future surgical referral guidelines.

A study published online ahead of print in the June 2011 edition of Obstetrics & Gynecology demonstrated that American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) guidelines for determining the likelihood that an ovarian mass is cancerous prior to surgery would accurately identify more women with ovarian cancer if the OVA1 blood test were used in place of the currently recommended CA-125 (cancer antigen 125) blood test. The study builds on prior research that shows accurate assessment of an ovarian mass for cancer prior to surgery can affect both treatment decisions and health outcomes for women with ovarian cancer.

… When OVA1 was used in place of CA 125 as recommend in the [ACOG] guidelines, 94% of malignancies in women of all ages in the study were accurately detected compared to 77% with CA-125. In addition, OVA1 improved sensitivity in premenopausal women, accurately detecting 91% of women with ovarian cancer in fewer than 58% with CA125. … The study also showed that the OVA1 test was about two times more likely to incorrectly identify women as high risk for ovarian cancer when they were not (a “false positive“) as compared to the CA-125 test overall. … 

OVA1 is the first test cleared by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for aiding in the pre-surgical evaluation of a woman’s ovarian mass for cancer. Vermillion, Inc., a molecular diagnostics company, developed OVA1, and Quest Diagnostics Incorporated, the world’s leading diagnostic testing company, offers OVA1 testing services in the United States and India. Quest Diagnostics and Vermillion both participated in the study and Vermillion also helped fund the study. Neither company had any involvement in the development of the manuscript.

Clinical practice guidelines recommend that women with ovarian cancer be under the care of a gynecologic oncologist, although only an estimated one-third of initial surgeries for ovarian cancer are performed by these specialists. ACOG guidelines for the management of ovarian masses recommend that physicians evaluate several factors, including menopausal status, imaging findings, family history, and CA 125 blood test levels, to divide women into low- and high-risk categories on which treatment plans, including surgical referral, are based.

The study evaluated the performance of the ACOG guidelines using the CA-125 test versus the OVA1 test in 516 women scheduled for surgery for an ovarian mass across a diverse group of primary and specialty care centers. When OVA1 was used in place of CA-125 as recommend in the guidelines, 94% of malignancies in women of all ages in the study were accurately detected compared to 77% with CA 125. In addition, OVA1 improved sensitivity in premenopausal women, accurately detecting 91% of women with ovarian cancer in fewer than 58% with CA-125.

Rachel Ware Miller, M.D., Assistant Professor, Gynecologic Oncology, Markey Cancer Center, University of Kentucky

“The high sensitivity in premenopausal women and early stage cancers is where CA-125 and the College guidelines have underperformed,” wrote investigator Rachel Ware Miller, M.D., assistant professor gynecologic oncology at the University of Kentucky’s Markey Cancer Center, in the study. ” Identifying these patients for referral is valuable because many are not receiving appropriate surgical staging and treatment. An effective preoperative test, particularly for younger women and early-stage cancers, can have a favorable effect on women’s health as survival is better in these populations.”

OVA1 when used with the College guidelines was also effective at detecting advanced disease, when surgery and chemotherapy can “improve overall survival,” wrote Dr. Miller.

The study also showed that the OVA1 test was about two times more likely to incorrectly identify women as high risk for ovarian cancer when they were not (a “false positive“), as compared to the CA-125 test overall. However, as OVA1 is only indicated for women for whom surgery is already planned, a higher rate of false positives would increase the possibility that a woman’s surgery is performed by a gynecologic oncologist rather than a gynecologist or other non-specialist.

The study follows the March 2011 publication in Obstetrics & Gynecology, the official publication of ACOG, of an updated committee opinion, The Role Of The Obstetrician-Gynecologist In The Early Detection Of Epithelial Ovarian Cancer, by ACOG and Society of Gynecologic Oncologists (SGO) that cited the FDA clearance of OVA1 (in 2009) and indicated that OVA1 “appears to improve the predictability of ovarian cancer in women with pelvic masses” and “may be useful for evaluating women with a pelvic mass.”

“Prior to OVA1’s clearance by the FDA, the only lab test physicians could use to assess the likelihood that an ovarian mass was malignant prior to surgery was CA-125, even though CA-125 is not indicated for this use and its performance is variable,” said Dr. Eric T. Fung, chief science officer, Vermillion, Inc. “These data should give physicians more confidence to refer women whose OVA1 test result indicates a high likelihood of cancer to a gynecologic oncologist for surgery.”

Ovarian cancer is the leading cause of death from gynecologic cancers in the United States and the fifth-leading cause of cancer deaths in women. Ovarian masses affect an estimated one million women and lead to as many 300,000 ovarian mass surgeries in the United States each year, according to an analysis by third parties on behalf of Quest Diagnostics.

About OVA1®

OVA1 is the first test cleared by FDA for aiding in the pre-surgical evaluation of a woman’s ovarian mass for cancer, and also is the first protein-based In Vitro Diagnostic Multi-Variate Index Assays (IVDMIA), a new class of state of the art software-based diagnostics. The test utilizes five well-established biomarkers — transthyretin (TT or prealbumin), apoolipoprotein A-1 (Apo A-1), beta 2-microglobulin (beta 2M), transferrin (Tfr) and cancer antigen 125 (CA-125 II) — and proprietary software to determine the likelihood of malignancy in women with ovarian mass for whom surgery is planned.

OVA1 is indicated for women who meet the following criteria: (i) over age 18, (ii) ovarian adnexal mass present for which surgery is planned, and (iii) not yet referred to an oncologist. It is an aid to further assess the likelihood that malignancy is present when the physician’s independent clinical and radiological evaluation does not indicate malignancy. The test should not be used without an independent clinical/radiological evaluation and is not intended to be a screening test or to determine whether a patient should proceed to surgery. Incorrect use of the OVA1 Test carries the risk of unnecessary testing, surgery, and/or delayed diagnosis.

About Quest Diagnostics

Quest Diagnostics is the world’s leading provider of diagnostic testing, information and services that patients and doctors need to make better healthcare decisions. The company offers the broadest access to diagnostic testing services through its network of laboratories and patient service centers, and provides interpretive consultation through its extensive medical and scientific staff. Quest Diagnostics is a pioneer in developing innovative diagnostic tests and advanced healthcare information technology solutions that help improve patient care. Additional company information is available at http://www.questdiagnostics.com/.

About Vermillion, Inc.

Vermillion, Inc. is dedicated to the development and commercialization of novel high-value diagnostic tests that help physicians diagnose, treat and improve outcomes for patients. Vermillion, along with its prestigious scientific collaborators, has diagnostic programs in oncology, cardiology and women’s health. Additional information about Vermillion can be found on the Web at http://www.vermillion.com/.

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New Study Shows Four-Year Window for Early Detection of Ovarian Cancer

A new study by Howard Hughes Medical Institute researchers shows that most early stage ovarian tumors exist for years at a size that is a thousand times smaller than existing tests can detect reliably.  But the researchers say their findings also point to new opportunities for detecting ovarian cancer—a roughly four-year window during which most tumors are big enough to be seen with a microscope, but have not yet spread.

Tiny Early-Stage Ovarian Tumors Define Early Detection Challenge

Currently available tests detect ovarian cancer when it is about the size of the onion in the photograph. To reduce ovarian cancer mortality by 50 percent, an early detection test would need to be able to reliably detect tumors the size of the peppercorn. (Photo Source:  Patrick O. Brown, Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator, Research News Release, July 28, 2009)

Currently available tests detect ovarian cancer when it is about the size of the onion in the photograph. To reduce ovarian cancer mortality by 50 percent, an early detection test would need to be able to reliably detect tumors the size of the peppercorn. (Photo Source: Patrick O. Brown, Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator, Research News Release, July 28, 2009)

A new study by Howard Hughes Medical Institute researchers shows that most early stage ovarian tumors exist for years at a size that is a thousand times smaller than existing tests can detect reliably.

But the researchers say their findings also point to new opportunities for detecting ovarian cancer—a roughly four-year window during which most tumors are big enough to be seen with a microscope, but have not yet spread.

“Our work provides a picture of the early events in the life of an ovarian tumor, before the patient knows it’s there,” says Howard Hughes Medical Institute researcher Patrick O. Brown. “It shows that there is a long window of opportunity for potentially life-saving early detection of this disease, but that the tumor spreads while it is still much too small to be detected by any of the tests that have been developed or proposed to date.”

According to the American Cancer Society, some 15,000 women in the United States and 140,000 women worldwide die from ovarian cancer each year. The vast majority of these deaths are from cancers of the serous type, which are usually discovered only after the cancer has spread.

“Instead of typically detecting these cancers at a very advanced stage, detecting them at an early stage would be enormous in terms of saving lives,” says Brown, who is at Stanford University School of Medicine. Early detection would enable surgeons to remove a tumor before it spreads, he adds.

The article—co-authored by Chana Palmer of the Canary Foundation, a nonprofit organization focused on early cancer detection—was published July 28, 2009, in the open access journal PLoS Medicine.

“Like almost everything with cancer … the more closely you look at the problem, the harder it looks,” Brown says. “That’s not to say that I don’t believe it’s a solvable problem. It’s just a difficult one.” — Patrick O. Brown, M.D. Ph.D.

Patrick O. Brown, M.D. Ph.D., Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator, Stanford University School of Medicine

Patrick O. Brown, M.D. Ph.D., Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator, Stanford Univ. School of Medicine

“Like almost everything with cancer … the more closely you look at the problem, the harder it looks,” Brown says. “That’s not to say that I don’t believe it’s a solvable problem. It’s just a difficult one.”

In the quest to develop early detection methods for ovarian cancer, Brown says, science hasn’t had a firm grasp on its target. So he and Palmer took advantage of published data on ovarian tumors to generate a better understanding of how the cancer progresses in its earliest stages.

The team analyzed data on serous-type ovarian tumors that were discovered when apparently healthy women at high genetic [BRCA1 gene mutation] risk for ovarian cancer had their ovaries and fallopian tubes removed prophylactically. Most of the tumors were microscopic in size; they were not detected when the excised tissue was examined with the naked eye.

The analysis uncovered a wealth of unexplored information. Thirty-seven of the early tumors had been precisely measured when they were excised – providing new details about the size of the tumors when they were developing prior to intervention, Brown says. By extrapolating from this “occult” size distribution to the size distribution of larger, clinically evident tumors, the researchers were able to develop a model of how the tumors grew and progressed. “We are essentially trying to build a story for how these tumors progress that fits the data,” Brown explains.

Among the study’s findings:

  • Serous ovarian tumors exist for at least four years before they spread.
  • The typical serous cancer is less than three millimeters across for 90 percent of this “window of opportunity for early detection.”
  • These early tumors are twice as likely to be in the fallopian tubes as in the ovaries.
  • To cut mortality from this cancer in half, an annual early-detection test would need to detect tumors five millimeters in diameter or less – about the size of a black peppercorn and less than a thousandth the size at which these cancers are typically detected today.

Brown’s lab is now looking for ways to take advantage of that window of opportunity to detect the microscopic tumors and intervene before the cancer spreads.

One strategy the laboratory is pursuing is to examine tissues near the ovaries, in the female reproductive tract, for protein or other molecular markers that could signify the presence of cancer. Brown says answering another question might also prove helpful: whether there is any reliable flow of material from the ovaries and fallopian tubes through the uterus and cervix into the vagina—material that might be tested for a specific cancer marker.

Despite science’s broad understanding of cancer at a molecular level, it has been challenging to identify simple molecular markers that signal the presence of early disease. One current blood marker, CA-125, has proven useful in monitoring later-stage ovarian cancer, but it has not been helpful for early detection. So Brown’s lab is also looking for biomarkers that are present only in ovarian tumors and not in healthy cells, instead of relying on tests that look for unusually high levels of a molecule that is part of normal biology (like CA-125).

The researchers are doing extensive sequencing of all messenger RNA molecules (which carry information for the production of specific proteins) in ovarian cancer cells, searching for evidence of proteins in these cells that would never be found in non-cancer cells. These variant molecules could be produced as a result of chromosome rearrangements—when the genome is cut and spliced in unusual ways—in ovarian cancers. “It’s a long shot,” says Brown, “but it’s important enough to try.”

Source: Tiny Early-Stage Ovarian Tumors Define Early Detection Challenge, Research News, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, July 29, 2009 [summarizing Brown PO, Palmer C, 2009 The Preclinical Natural History of Serous Ovarian Cancer: Defining the Target for Early Detection. PLoS Med 6(7): e1000114. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000114].

2009 ASCO Annual Meeting Highlights: Ovarian Cancer & Select General Issues

The 2009 American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Annual Meeting was held in Orlando, Florida from May 29 through June 2, 2009.  We provide below select highlights from the 2009 ASCO Annual Meeting that relate to ovarian cancer and other general issues.

The 2009 American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Annual Meeting was held in Orlando, Florida from May 29 through June 2, 2009.  We provide below select highlights from the 2009 ASCO Annual Meeting that relate to ovarian cancer and other general issues. Learn more about How to Read a Medical Abstract in a Research Study.

Development Time of Cancer Clinical Trials Linked to Accrual Goals.

Physicians Need to Address Prescription Costs With Patients Who Participate In Clinical Trials.

Availability of Experimental Therapy Outside of Randomized Clinical Trials In Oncology.

ASCO Fertility Preservation Guidelines For Cancer Patients Not Widely Followed By Oncologists.

Ginger (Zindol®) Quells Cancer Patients’ Chemotherapy-Related Nausea.

Early Treatment of Recurrent Ovarian Cancer Based Upon Rising CA-125 Levels Does Not Increase Survival.

Body Mass Index (BMI) Should Be Taken Into Account When Assessing A Cancer Patient’s Vitamin D Status.

Extreme Drug Resistance (EDR) Assay Results Do Not Independently Predict Or Alter The Outcomes of Patients With Epithelial Ovarian Cancer Who Are Treated With Optimal Cytoreductive Surgery Followed By Platinum & Taxane Combination Chemotherapy in Either a Primary or Recurrent Setting.

Systematic Review Of Past Study Results For Use of Cytoreductive Surgery Combined With Hyperthermic Intraperitoneal Chemotherapy (HIPEC).

Preliminary Results From Phase II Study of Oxaliplatin+Docetaxel+Bevacizumab As First Line Treatment of Advanced Ovarian Cancer Show 62% Overall Response Rate & 70% One-Year Progression Free Survival.

Combined Weekly Docetaxel + Gemcitabine In Relapsed Ovarian Cancer & Peritoneal Cancer Produces 59% Overall Response Rate.

A Phase II Trial of Irinotecan & Oral Etoposide Chemotherapy in Recurrent Ovarian Cancer Patients Produces 47% Overall Response Rate & 81% Clinical Benefit Rate.

Weekly Bevacizumab & Pegylated Liposomal Doxorubicin Produce 55% Clinical Benefit Rate In Progressing/Recurrent Ovarian Cancer Patients.

Phase II Study of Belotecan (CKD-602)+ Carboplatin Demonstrates 53% Overall Response Rate in Recurrent Ovarian Cancer Patients.

Single Agent Voreloxin Produces 11% Overall Response Rate & 52% Disease Control Rate in Phase II Study Involving Women with Platinum-Resistant Ovarian Cancer.

A Phase II Study of Patupilone In Patients With Platinum Refractory/Resistant Ovarian, Primary Fallopian, or Peritoneal Cancer Produces 48% Clinical Benefit Rate.

Trabectedin (Yondelis®) + Pegylated Liposomal Doxorubicin (PLD) Produces Better Response Than PLD Alone.

M.D. Anderson Cancer Center Finds Anti-VEGF Therapy Is Highly Effective In Patients With Ovarian Granulosa Cell Tumors.

M.D. Anderson Cancer Center Finds That Increased Angiogenesis Is A Significant Predictor Of Poor Clinical Outcome In Patients With Sex-Cord Stromal Tumors; Suggests Anti-Angiogenesis Therapy is Warranted For This Subtype of Ovarian Cancer.

ZYBRESTAT™ (Combretastatin A-4 phosphate) Produces 32% Confirmed Partial Response Rate (RR) in Evaluable Patients With Platinum Resistant Ovarian Cancer (25% RR if total enrolled patients used as denominator).

ASSIST-5 Trial of TELCYTA® + Pegylated Liposomal Doxorubicin Produces 12% Response Rate (With One Complete Response) in Patients With Platinum Refractory and Resistant Ovarian Cancer.

Two Studies Provide Contradictory Data for Use of Carboplatin + Pegylated Liposomal Doxorubicin in Ovarian Cancer

OGX-427 Treatment Demonstrates Safety, Evidence of Declines in Circulating Tumor Cells and Reductions in Tumor Markers in a Phase I Cancer Trial, Including 60% Response Rate (Based Upon Declining CA125) For Ovarian Cancer Patients.

Maintenance BIBF 1120 Could Delay Disease Progression in Recurrent Ovarian Cancer.

Oral PARP Inhibitor Olaparib (AZD2281) Effective Against BRCA-Deficient Advanced Ovarian Cancer.

Carfilzomib (PX-171-007) Produces Stable Disease For 4+ Months In One Ovarian Cancer Patient Who Failed Under Four Previous Treatment Lines – Phase II Solid Tumor Trial.

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About The American Society of Clinical Oncology

The American Society of Clinical Oncology is a non-profit organization founded in 1964 with the overarching goals of improving cancer care and prevention. More than 27,000 oncology practitioners belong to ASCO, representing all oncology disciplines and subspecialties. Members include physicians and health-care professionals in all levels of the practice of oncology. To view 2009 ASCO Annual Meeting presentation abstracts, click here.  To view 2009 ASCO Annual Meeting presentation abstracts regarding ovarian cancer, click here.  To view ASCO ovarian cancer information, click here.

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ProLindac Produces 66% Disease Stabilization In Heavily-Pretreated Patients Within Phase II Study High Dose Groups

“… ACCESS PHARMACEUTICALS, INC. … , announced today positive safety and efficacy results from its Phase 2 monotherapy clinical study of ProLindac(TM) in late-stage, heavily pretreated ovarian cancer patients. In this monotherapy study 66% of patients who received the highest dose achieved clinically meaningful disease stabilization according to RECIST [Response Evaluation Criteria in Solid Tumors] criteria. No patient in any dose group exhibited any signs of acute neurotoxicity, which is a major adverse side-effect of the approved DACH platinum, Eloxatin, and ProLindac was well tolerated overall. The maximum tolerated dose of ProLindac was established as well as the recommended dose levels for future combination studies. …”

66% of evaluable heavily-pretreated patients in the high dose groups achieved disease stabilization. ProLindac was well tolerated overall.

DALLAS, March 5 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ — ACCESS PHARMACEUTICALS, INC. (OTCBB: ACCP), announced today positive safety and efficacy results from its Phase 2 monotherapy clinical study of ProLindac(TM) in late-stage, heavily pretreated ovarian cancer patients. In this monotherapy study 66% of patients who received the highest dose achieved clinically meaningful disease stabilization according to RECIST [Response Evaluation Criteria in Solid Tumors] criteria. No patient in any dose group exhibited any signs of acute neurotoxicity, which is a major adverse side-effect of the approved DACH platinum, Eloxatin, and ProLindac was well tolerated overall. The maximum tolerated dose of ProLindac was established as well as the recommended dose levels for future combination studies.

‘We are very pleased with these results. ProLindac was well tolerated in an absolute sense and relative to commercially-available platinum therapies. We saw significant DACH platinum activity and efficacy in patients at the highest dose levels which is very encouraging given that this study involved monotherapy in a heavily pretreated patient population that typically only respond to an aggressive drug combination,’ commented Dr. David Nowotnik, Access’ Senior Vice President R&D. ‘The DACH platinum activity level seen benchmarked favorably with published studies of monotherapy oxaliplatin in similar but less heavily pre-treated patient populations. Having achieved the recommended dose for future combination studies, we look forward to moving ahead in the clinic ourselves and with our regional partners.’

This 26 patient Phase 2 study explored 3 different dose levels and 2 dosing regimens of ProLindac as a monotherapy treatment for advanced ovarian cancer, to provide data on the monotherapy anticancer activity and safety of ProLindac. Of patients eligible for evaluation according to standard RECIST criteria, clinically-meaningful disease stabilization was achieved in 42% of all patients, and 66% of all patients in the higher dose groups. Sustained and significant reductions in Ca-125, the established specific serum marker for ovarian cancer, were also observed in several patients.

‘We are delighted that the results from this study support our belief that ProLindac is an active platinum agent with a favorable side effect profile,’ stated Jeffrey B. Davis, Access’ President & CEO. ‘These data provide us with a strong incentive to continue the clinical development of ProLindac. As previously announced, we are currently planning a number of combination trials, looking at combining ProLindac with other cancer agents, such as taxol and gemcitabine, in multiple solid tumor indications including colorectal and ovarian.’

Access has previously announced that it has licensed ProLindac to Jiangsu Aosaikang Pharmaceutical Co., Ltd. (“ASK”) for the Greater China Region and to JCOM, Ltd for South Korea. Under these agreements both of these partners will be conducting Phase 2 combination studies with ProLindac in specific tumor types at their expense based on these results. Access is currently in discussion with potential partners for development and commercialization of ProLindac in additional territories.

About ProLindac(TM):

ProLindac is a novel DACH platinum prodrug which has been shown to be active in a wide variety of solid tumors in both preclinical models and in human trials. Access believes that ProLindac’s unique molecular design potentially could eliminate some of the toxic side effects seen in the currently marketed DACH platinum, Eloxatin, which has sales in excess of $2 billion.

About Access:

Access Pharmaceuticals, Inc. is an emerging biopharmaceutical company that develops and commercializes propriety products for the treatment and supportive care of cancer patients. Access’ products include ProLindac(TM), currently in Phase 2 clinical testing of patients with ovarian cancer, and MuGard(TM) for the management of patients with mucositis. The company also has other advanced drug delivery technologies including Cobalamin(TM)-mediated targeted delivery and oral drug delivery, its proprietary nanopolymer delivery technology based on the natural vitamin B12 uptake mechanism; Angiolix(R), a humanized monoclonal antibody which acts as an anti-angiogenesis factor and is targeted to breast cancer; Prodrax(R), a non-toxic prodrug which is activated in the hypoxic zones of solid tumors to kill cancer cells; Alchemix, a chemotherapeutic agent that combines multiple modes of action to overcome drug resistance. Access is also developing Phenylbutyrate (“PB”), an HDAC inhibitor and differentiating agent currently a Phase 2 clinical candidate. Access recently announced the acquisition of MacroChem Corporation. This acquisition provides Access with three additional late-stage product candidates. Pexiganan, a novel topical anti-infective for the treatment of diabetic foot infection, has already completed two Phase 3 trials. EcoNail is a topically applied econazole lacquer based on Access’ proprietary SEPA polymer technology, for the treatment of onychomycosis, a condition commonly known as nail fungus. Thiarabine is a new generation nucleoside analog which has demonstrated both pre-clinical and clinical activity in certain cancers. For additional information on Access Pharmaceuticals, please visit our website at www.accesspharma.com.

This press release contains certain statements that are forward-looking within the meaning of Section 27a of the Securities Act of 1933, as amended, and that involve risks and uncertainties. These statements include those relating to: clinical trial plans and timelines and clinical results for ProLindac and product candidates acquired in the MacroChem transaction, our ability to execute licensing agreements in the future, Access’ plans to continue and initiate clinical trials, the value of its products in the market, its ability to achieve clinical and commercial success and its ability to successfully develop marketed products. These statements are subject to numerous risks, including but not limited Access’ need to obtain additional financing in order to continue the clinical trial and operations and to the risks detailed in Access’ Annual Reports on Form 10-K and other reports filed by Access with the Securities and Exchange Commission.”

Quoted Source66% of evaluable heavily-pretreated patients in the high dose groups achieved disease stabilization. ProLindac was well tolerated, Press Release, lAccess Pharmaceuticals, Inc., March 5, 2009.