Researchers Examining Effectiveness of Radiation and Thalidomide in Treating Brain Tumors
Researchers at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital and at 14 other sites around the country have begun enrolling patients into a National Cancer Institute (NCI)-sponsored clinical trial examining the effects of radiation and thalidomide in treating glioblastoma multiforme, a deadly brain cancer. The Phase II trial, conducted by Philadelphia-based clinical trial cooperative group known as the Radiation Therapy Oncology Group (RTOG), in collaboration with Celgene Corporation of Warren, NJ, aims to determine the drugs safety and efficacy in extending patients lives. The study, which is expected to last about one year, will involve approximately 80 patients.
This combination treatment may be an important step in treating a normally intractable illness that resists all other therapies, says Walter J. Curran Jr., MD, Group Chairman of the RTOG and Clinical Director of the Kimmel Cancer Center at Thomas Jefferson University.
Dr. Curran, who is also Professor and Chair of Radiation Oncology at Jefferson Medical College, points out that the RTOG study is the first trial of its kind to look at radiation and thalidomide in treating any cancer.
While surgery and radiation are the standard treatments for glioblastoma, their effects are usually temporary. Chemotherapy has marginal value, failing to reach areas in the brain to which the cancer has spread, says Dr. Curran, which is why we have looked for alternatives. The study will include patients who have not previously undergone radiation therapy or chemotherapy.
Thalidomide, which Celgene markets under the brand name Thalomid, works by cutting off the blood supply to tumors. In cancer, tumor cells are frequently able to engineer new vessel growth, a process called angiogenesis, promoting cancer spread.
In the 1960s, thalidomide, originally intended to treat morning sickness, was banned around the world after causing thousands of babies to be born either without limbs or with flipper-like arms and legs. In recent years, however, the drugs use has focused on leprosy, cancer, AIDS and other diseases.
Glioblastoma multiforme is the deadliest type of malignant brain tumor. Although any of the brains cells can turn malignant, glioblastoma multiforme, a tumor of the glial cells, is the most malignant, and one of the most common. The tumor has a tendency to infiltrate surrounding tissue and is commonly associated with promoting blood vessel growth, bleeding and tissue death. In the United States, the disease strikes approximately 9,000 individuals, with a median survival time of about 12 months following diagnosis.