Women's cancers: New treatments depend on innovation

March 16, 2014 | by Elizabeth Stewart

In this series – this part explores the search for innovative new therapies – we explore crucial strides made against women's cancers by City of Hope researchers during the past year. The projects are many and varied, involving the basics of fighting cancer, analyses of who's at greatest risk, the search for surprising new therapies, the testing of new treatments and the follow-up with survivors and their partners.

Each study plays a role. Each adds to what we know about cancer. Each brings us closer to cures.

In Part 1, we explained ways in which researchers are seeking to fight cancer through basic science.

In Part 2, we showed how researchers are trying to better understand risks and prevention.

Part 3: Developing innovative therapeutics
LC_HC_meditope City of Hope researchers recently received a $1 million Keck Foundation grant to study meditopes. Researchers here discovered a site in the middle of a monoclonal antibody where a peptide can easily attach, acting as a "hitch" that allows them to easily attach drugs to the antibodies. In this way, there's potential to harness the immune system to fight cancer and other diseases.

Sophisticated technology for targeted treatment

This year, John C. Williams, Ph.D., associate professor of molecular medicine, published research in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on his advances in developing meditope technology.

These engineered peptides “fit” into antibodies, much like a lock and key, making it possible to selectively deliver material to cancer cells. This research also earned prestigious funding from the W.M. Keck Foundation, which will help Williams and his team advance its applications. This includes the recent development of several new meditopes that have the ability to attach to therapeutic antibodies for several different forms of cancer, including breast cancer.

Williams also continues to work with Jinha Park, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of diagnostic radiology, to design meditopes to bind specifically to novel HER2 antibodies that attack HER2 breast cancer. Their work is critical, since it provides a new, more targeted treatment for this aggressive, hard-to-treat form of breast cancer.

In another study, City of Hope investigators have developed a new PET imaging agent.

They placed a radioactive particle on Herceptin, a common treatment for women with HER2 positive breast cancer. Joanne Mortimer, M.D., director of the Women’s Cancers Program; along with Andrew Raubitschek, M.D., chief of radioimmunotherapy; David Colcher, Ph.D., deputy director of radioimmunotherapy; and James Bading, Ph.D., research professor of cancer immunotherapeutics and tumor immunology, were able to show that the particle “lit up” HER2 in a very sensitive and clear way, helping them to identify the cancer.

The researchers even detected HER2 positive tumors in patients who were defined as HER2 negative by pathologists. Mortimer and the team of researchers are now using this technology to identify women who will benefit from trastuzumab emtansine (T-DMI), a new type of treatment for HER2 positive breast cancer. Using this approach may provide better results than the current detection methods and could better predict which patients will benefit from receiving T-DMI.

Looking to clues, and cures, in nature

John H. Yim, M.D., associate professor of surgery, made strides in an effort to bring a naturally-derived treatment to women who are battling breast and ovarian cancers.

Baicalein, which is derived from a Chinese herb, enhances the activity of a tumor-suppressing protein and causes cancer cells to die. In recent mouse studies, Yim found that baicalein taken in oral form was as effective as intravenous administration. This discovery is a major benefit for patients, because it could make the compound even less expensive and more convenient to access and take. He also identified a gene that has increased activity in tumors when baicalein is present, and plans to use measurements of this gene’s activity to understand whether baicalein is working in patients.

Yim aims to open a phase I clinical trial to test baicalein in women with breast cancer in the next year.

Next: Part 4: Bringing new treatments to the clinic

Next: Part 5: Support is vital during, and after, treatment


Learn more about City of Hope's Women's Cancers Program





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