As if the non-small-cell lung cancer that had defied conventional therapies had not been enough, the tumors in and around Tom Stanback's lungs grew so large that he was having difficulty swallowing and breathing. Unwilling to go quietly, Stanback actively sought out clinical trials (surprisingly, most patients don't) in search of anything that might extend his life. One of them, at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, is focused on studying the enzymatic on/off switches that sit atop the underlying genome and regulate whether and how loudly those genes will be expressed. This includes the mutated genes that crank out cancer cells. While science can't do much to change the genome, epigenetic functions are manipulated all the time--sometimes inadvertently, by exposure to environmental chemicals, say; other times cleverly, by drugs. Stanback, a 62-year-old, 40-year former smoker, was involved in a trial to see if a new epigenetic drug could shrink his tumors.
In his case, the answer was no, not quite. But the leaders of the cross-disciplinary, cross-institutional research team behind the work (one of nine, soon to be 10, main teams backed by SU2C) weren't finished. They postulated that even if the epigenetic manipulation alone didn't knock out the cancer, it had a priming effect, improving the likelihood that other treatments administered later would work. That's exactly what happened when Stanback returned home for a round of radiation therapy at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City and joined a second clinical trial. His tumors have shrunk markedly in the past year and a half and were not visible on a recent CT scan. "The drug nudges the T cells to being alive and active," he says. "I'm alive. I'm healthier than I've ever been." Even better, a few other patients in the study have enjoyed what appears to be complete remission.
I looked through vidaza and dacogen trials and the only one handling it by John Hopkins is one by vidaza. The sgi-110 trial has nothing at John Hopkins. But....we have a drug that has lower side effects and much longer self life. This is going to be interesting to watch how this pans out over the next few years.