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Epigenetic therapy shows promise in hard-to-treat lung cancer

PHILADELPHIA -- Patients with recurrent metastatic non-small cell lung cancer have a morbid prognosis, but a new epigenetic therapy may have potential in 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 patients with recurrent metastatic non-small cell lung cancer who had been heavily pretreated but showed no response.

Researchers found a median survival of 6.4 months with treatment, where the typical survival for this patient population is four months.

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.

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

"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."

The AACR will host a press conference on the findings on Wednesday, Nov. 9 at 11:00 a.m. ET.

Reporters can participate by using the following dial-in information:
U.S./Canada: (888) 647-7462
International: (201) 604-0169

The press conference will be hosted by Cancer Discovery Co-editors-in-Chief Jos Baselga, M.D., Ph.D., associate director and chief of the division of hematology/oncology at the Massachusetts General Hospital, and Lewis C. Cantley, Ph.D., director of the cancer center at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and professor of systems biology at Harvard Medical School.

The following panelists will participate:

  • Jerry Morton, 61, a firefighter from Baltimore alive more than two years after treatment with the epigenetic therapy.
  • Stephen A. Baylin, M.D., professor and deputy director of the Kimmel Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins University and leader of the SU2C Epigenetics Dream Team.
  • Charles Rudin, M.D., Ph.D., professor of oncology and associate director for clinical research at Johns Hopkins University Kimmel Cancer Center and a senior investigator on the SU2C Epigenetics Dream Team.
  • Malcolm Brock, M.D., associate professor of surgery and oncology and a leader in epigenetic correlative biomarker development at Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center.
  • Manel Esteller, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Cancer Epigenetics and Biology Program at Bellvitge Biomedical Research Institute in Barcelona.
  • Jeffrey A. Engleman, M.D., Ph.D., director of thoracic oncology at Massachusetts General Hospital.

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 SU2C," 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."

Contact: Jeremy Moore
American Association for Cancer Research

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