Herpes virus to treat melanoma? Skin cancer expert offers perspective

June 1, 2015 | by   
melanoma and the herpes virus

A modified herpes virus has potential in the treatment of melanoma. But treatment isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach.

Cancer researchers have long explored the potential of modified viruses, such as pox, parvo and coxsackie, in treating the disease. Now headlines are suggesting that this potential may have been realized.

Initial findings published in the Journal of Oncology on May 26 show that a genetically engineered herpes virus, known as T-VEC, could be especially beneficial for patients with melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. Specifically, the virus is showing the ability to kill cancer cells and stop tumors from growing.

This power comes from the fact that viruses, unlike chemotherapy, have the ability to target the cancer cells directly, activating the immune system to fight cancer without collateral damage to healthy cells.

In the latest study, researchers from The Institute of Cancer Research, London and The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust found that out of 436 patients with aggressive Stage 3 or Stage 4 malignant melanoma included in the trial, 16 percent had a response rate that lasted for more than six months.

The findings have been widely heralded. Said the Washington Post: “In a few months time, those suffering from skin cancer may find an unlikely hero in their treatment regimen: herpes. A modified version of the Herpes Simplex 1 virus (known for causing cold sores and some cases of genital herpes) called T-Vec has successfully been used to treat melanoma in a phase III clinical trial. That means it’s just waiting for a final okay from the FDA before the Amgen product can hit the market.”

Amid the enthusiasm, much of it warranted, Jae Jung, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor in dermatology at City of Hope, urges perspective.  » Continue Reading

Translational researcher Larry Kwak explores lymphoma therapy’s frontier

May 31, 2015 | by   
Translational research and scientific boundaries

Translational research expert Larry Kwak unites the lab with the clinic, bringing new therapies to patients.

His voice sounds distant and a bit distorted. The phone isn’t working properly. A second and third attempt to make the connection fail as well, so he patiently offers his cell phone number, not a hint of frustration apparent in his voice. The fourth time’s a charm; the connection is crystal-clear.

Larry Kwak, M.D., Ph.D., a recognized expert in the clinical management of patients with low-grade lymphomas and a highly acclaimed cancer researcher, thoughtfully answers the questions posed to him. He is careful to choose the right words, not for fear of mistakes, but to ensure his listener understands his meaning. It’s easy to see why he is beloved by patients and highly respected as a researcher.

Kwak, in fact, is world-renowned for his expertise as a translational research scientist and physician. Formerly chair of the lymphoma and myeloma department at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, he recently joined City of Hope in a key leadership role within the new Hematologic Malignancies and Stem Cell Transplantation Institute. He is director of the Toni Stephenson Lymphoma Center, shaping the next generation of research and treatments for all types of lymphoma.

Bringing new therapies to patients quickly

Kwak also serves as the inaugural associate director for developmental therapeutics and translational research for the City of Hope’s comprehensive cancer center. He also is the first to hold the title of Dr. Michael Friedman Professor in Translational Medicine.

Known for his ability to bring together and lead effective research teams, he excels at integrating basic discoveries in academic laboratories with translational clinical development. » Continue Reading

‘Value’ in health care: What it means, what it doesn’t mean

May 30, 2015 | by   

Ranked by U.S. News & World Report as one of the elite places in the world to receive cancer care, City of Hope brings a mission-driven commitment to treating patients and their families through what may be the most intense experience of their lives.

Joseph Alvarnas, medical quality expert

‘Value’ in health care, especially cancer care, should be about individuals and outcomes, not one-size-fits-all treatment, says Joseph Alvarnas.

Now, as efforts to reduce costs escalate and definitions of what constitutes health care value and quality are rewritten, it’s never been more important to bring greater to transparency toward understanding what the institution does for patients, said Joseph Alvarnas, M.D., director of Medical Quality and associate clinical professor of the Department of Hematology & Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation at City of Hope.

Here, Alvarnas, who has been an outspoken proponent of the need to define true “value” in health care, puts into perspective City of Hope’s unique system of care and how failing to understand its value can be a disservice to patients who need it.

City of Hope combines a range of services to provide comprehensive, leading-edge care for its patients. Could you describe that system of care?

We take a patient throughout the continuum of care that’s necessary to not only treat their disease but also to ultimately seek to restore them to a sense of wholeness. The care model has three levels: the best known care, a rapid track to innovative therapies and a person- and family-centered vision of what health care should be.

We offer not just the best known therapies, but also the best therapy for a particular person. For some people, that may be a research protocol. For others that may be not getting chemotherapy – it may be supportive care or palliative care. » Continue Reading

ASCO 2015: Drug combination promising for some lung cancer patients

May 29, 2015 | by   

Lung cancer patients in need of improved treatment options may soon get good news, with a new combination therapy showing promise where other treatments have failed.

lung cancer

City of Hope researchers share findings on a promising combination treatment for lung cancer.

Karen Reckamp, M.D., M.S., co-director of the Lung Cancer and Thoracic Oncology Program at City of Hope, will be among the researchers presenting data this week on a combination of the drugs cabozantinib and erlotinib. They’ll be discussing their study at the American Society for Clinical Oncology annual meeting in Chicago.

Although lung cancer treatments have improved overall with the introduction of tyrosine kinase inhibitors, some patients develop resistance to the drugs. The common culprit is the resistance mutation known as T790M. Often, patients without that mutation also become resistant to the treatment.

That leaves patients without use of one of the primary type of drugs used to treat their disease.

“Lung cancer patients with these mutations have an unmet need, and they don’t have significant options right now,” Reckamp said. » Continue Reading

Brain cancer treatment helps men with advanced prostate cancer

May 29, 2015 | by   

City of Hope is developing cures for men by bridging the lab and clinic. Here, Karen Aboody works with Jacob Berlin.

Although science and medicine have much in common, their practitioners are immersed in work that often appears to be worlds apart. Developing cures together — that is, translating science into meaningful, effective medical treatment — requires boundless creativity and perseverance.

This journey often starts when City of Hope’s scientists and clinicians share their recent discoveries and challenges in the lab and clinic. This open forum enables them to make new connections and consider possibilities for improving treatment for patients.

One such connection was made when Karen Aboody, M.D., professor of neurosciences and a renowned translational scientist, shared advances using neural stem cells to treat cancer with Jonathan Yamzon, M.D., a urologic oncologist who spends his days treating men in the clinic. Yamzon was intrigued by the potential of this science to target prostate cancer.

As a result, a team of researchers has embraced this promising new approach as a way to cure men. Yamzon and Aboody, along with Jacob Berlin, Ph.D., assistant professor of molecular medicine, and Jeremy Jones, Ph.D., assistant professor of molecular pharmacology, are now collaborating to bring neural stem cell therapy to men fighting prostate cancer — patients in urgent need of novel therapies for their disease.

Hormone therapy is the standard treatment for prostate cancer. The approach essentially starves cancer of testosterone, which the tumors need to grow and spread. But in many men, the cells mutate to produce testosterone on their own and keep growing, in effect becoming resistant to therapy. At this point, higher doses of chemotherapy may be effective, but would be too toxic to tolerate. This is where targeted neural stem cell therapy could step in. “We’re looking to treat patients who really don’t have any other options,” Yamzon said.

» Continue Reading

ASCO 2015: Clinical trial assesses options for triple-negative breast cancer

May 28, 2015 | by   

A clinical trial currently being conducted at City of Hope and elsewhere suggests that researchers are developing improved treatment options for young women with advanced triple-negative breast cancer, a particularly difficult-to-treat disease.

breast cancer

A trial being presented at ASCO finds a combination of carboplatin and a PARP-inhibitor is a promising approach to breast cancer, shown, that has spread.

George Somlo, M.D., a professor in the departments of Medical Oncology & Therapeutics Research and Hematology & Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation at City of Hope, will present early results from the trial this week at the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s (ASCO) annual meeting in Chicago. The meeting, May 29 through June 2, will draw oncologists from around the country to discuss research, treatment and best practices.

Somlo’s presentation – about a randomized, phase II national study – is focused on a particular regimen for women with advanced breast cancer who have a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation. The study examines the effectiveness of a PARP inhibitor known veliparib. Participants in the study either receive the drug on its own or in combination with carboplatin.

“We’re learning that triple-negative breast cancer consists of at least a half-dozen subtypes, each of which may require personalized therapies,” Somlo said. “We must intensify our current laboratory and translational research to improve next-generation clinical trials for much better control and eventual cure of triple-negative Stage 4 metastatic breast cancer.”

A cancer is considered triple-negative when it doesn’t respond to any known targeted therapies; such cancer occurs in about 15 percent of women with breast cancer. But, as more tumor targets are identified and the subtypes of triple-negative breast cancer become more clear, the treatments can become more targeted as well. » Continue Reading

Moving patients from terminal to treatable – with robotic surgery

May 28, 2015 | by   
Robotic Surgery_004

“There are many ways that we can get at cancer without making giant incisions, yet still give the patients good outcomes,” said Yuman Fong, chair of the Department of Surgery at City of Hope.

Minimally invasive surgery at City of Hope is performed using robots with “wrists” that provide greater dexterity and range of motion than a human hand. These advanced “surgical assistants” enable surgeons to access hard-to-reach areas of the body through incisions no larger than a penny.

“Surgical robotics is a rapidly maturing field that represents both the present and the future at City of Hope, one of the largest centers of minimally-invasive and robotic surgery in the world,” says Yuman Fong, M.D., chair of the Department of Surgery.

The less-is-more approach has dramatically altered the way patients experience and recover from surgery. A smaller incision often means less postoperative pain, fewer side effects, quicker recovery and a shorter hospital stay.

City of Hope surgeons have performed more than 10,000 robot-assisted surgeries since 2003, when the cancer center began performing prostatectomy using the da Vinci Surgical System, the first robotic surgery system approved by the Food and Drug Administration for general laparoscopic surgery.

An early adapter to robotics, the cancer center has played a key role in the development and refinement of the technology. From a console, the surgeon manipulates four robotic arms — three grip laparoscopic tools, while the fourth holds a pencil-sized video camera that is inserted through the incision to provide three-dimensional, magnified vision of the site.

» Continue Reading

Cancer Insights: What I’ll be looking for in Chicago – an ASCO 2015 preview

May 27, 2015 | by   

The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) is a U.S.-based organization that ties together oncology health care professionals (doctors, nurses and pharmacists) from around the world. The organization’s annual meeting represents a key forum in which scientific breakthroughs in oncology are unveiled. Attendance is nothing short of spectacular – last year, the meeting drew 34,000 attendees with just over half coming from outside of the U.S.

ASCO 2015: What's hot

ASCO 2015 preview: For a medical oncologist specializing in prostate, kidney and bladder cancer, the annual meeting of the nation’s top oncologists is a learning opportunity that can’t be missed. One of the most promising topics is about a clinical trial using gene therapy.

This year’s meeting begins Thursday in Chicago. After a busy clinic today, I’m going to hop on a red-eye and make my way there. As a medical oncologist focused on prostate, kidney and bladder cancer, I’ll be focused on the following research in particular:

1. “Gene therapy” for bladder cancer: The BOREALIS-1 trial: For years we have longed for new therapies for advanced bladder cancer. It’s been three decades since cisplatin (a standard chemotherapy agent) was introduced for the disease, and since that time, we’ve had virtually no effective drugs developed. This appears to be changing dramatically.

My friend and colleague Przemyslaw Twardowski, M.D., was involved in an international study evaluating a novel drug called apatorsen. Apatorsen represents a sort of “gene therapy” – a short strand of DNA that enters the cancer cell and shuts down its defense mechanisms. At this meeting, we will see data suggesting that when added to chemotherapy, apatorsen led to an impressive improvement in survival.

That data is a real glimmer of hope for patients with advanced bladder cancer. » Continue Reading

Free app lets blood donors schedule appointments and see impact

May 27, 2015 | by   

Traditionally, blood donation comes with perks – tokens such as a gift certificate, swag emblazoned with the donor center’s logo or the occasional movie ticket.

blood donor

Carlos Morgan, a regular blood donor at City of Hope, checks the new COH Donate app on his smartphone. Morgan had just given three units of platelets.

Kasie Uyeno, manager of Blood Donor Recruitment for City of Hope, knows that’s not what brings donors back to the center again and again. They come for the ability to help others. That understanding sparked her idea for COH Donate: a free app that, in addition to offering practical applications like scheduling and reminders, aims to connect donors with examples of how they’re helping.

“Think of it as a feel-good corner on your phone,” she said in a recent interview with ABC7. “We want to help connect those dots for our donors and show them patients whose lives were saved because of their generosity – let them see the magnitude of what they’ve done.”

Blood products are especially important at City of Hope, where patients who have received bone marrow and stem cell transplants rely on transfusions and platelets while their body rebuilds its immune system. » Continue Reading

ASCO 2015: Cancer research brings new and better therapies to patients

May 26, 2015 | by   

Anyone who tours City of Hope will almost certainly be taken by two key buildings: City of Hope Helford Clinical Research Hospital and the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Center for Cancer Immunotherapeutics & Tumor Immunology.

cancer research

City of Hope scientists will share their cancer research breakthroughs at the ASCO 2015 annual meeting in Chicago.

The heart of the campus, in more ways than one, the two buildings are a stone’s throw from each other. The hospital is dedicated to treating cancer patients who are currently fighting their disease, and the research institute to finding the treatments and cures these patients need – and efficiently bringing those innovations to the clinic.

That drive to help patients is what inspires so many City of Hope physicians and scientists to attend, and present research at, medical conferences. There, they can share their discoveries with their peers worldwide, as well as learn about new advances and developments in cancer research and care. One of the most notable of those conferences will take place this week in Chicago.

Thousands of researchers and physicians will convene in Chicago May 29 through June 2 for the 2015 American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Annual Meeting, including a delegation from City of Hope who will share findings about a number of cancers and treatment approaches, including assessments of potential new therapies and comparisons of current therapies.  » Continue Reading