Molecular fingerprints pg. 8
“It’s like Magellan,” says Andrew Link, Ph.D., associate professor of Microbiology & Immunology and Biochemistry at Vanderbilt who has developed a new method for studying complex mixtures of proteins. “You send your boat out. You don’t know what you’re going to find.”
Pie in the sky
In August 2002, the pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca reported that adding Iressa, a drug that blocks the EGF receptor, to a standard cancer drug did not significantly improve survival in a large-scale study of patients with advanced non-small cell lung cancer, the most common form of the disease.
The two drugs may have antagonized each other’s effects, however. When given as a single agent, the response of tumors to Iressa “is still felt to be remarkable,” says Carbone, who directs a federally funded Specialized Program of Research Excellence in lung cancer at Vanderbilt. The drug, which has been given to more than 18,000 people worldwide, is at least two to three times better in treating recurrences of lung cancer “than anything else out there, as well as being convenient and safe to take,” he adds.
Simply blocking the EGF receptor may not be enough to stop the cascade of events that leads to cancer, however. “You give 100 patients Iressa, 15 percent will respond, and there’s no way for you to know right now which one,” Carbone says. “My belief is that cancer is more complicated than that … It might well be 50 genes that you’re going to have to look at simultaneously.”
The ultimate treatment may come in the form of “cocktails” of several drugs that target different genes and protein pathways, depending on the unique characteristics of the patient’s cancer.
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