UPCI / UPMC CC Press Releases

UPCI Launches Clinical Trial for Patients with Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancers

PITTSBURGH, May 5, 2009 – The University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (UPCI) will be the primary site for a clinical trial of ABT-888 a drug previously proven in combination treatments to improve chemotherapy's effectiveness by lowering cancer cells' resistance to treatment. This trial will, for the first time, examine ABT-888 as a single agent for patients with cancers related to BRCA 1 or 2 genetic mutations, which predispose patients to breast and ovarian cancers.

According to the study's principal investigator, Shannon Puhalla, MD, assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and breast oncologist at Magee-Womens Cancer Program of UPMC Cancer Centers, ABT-888 targets the polymerase (PARP) family of enzymes responsible for a wide variety of cellular processes in cancer cells.

"Cancer cells have been shown to have increased levels of PARP, which we believe causes resistance to chemotherapies and other cancer treatments," said Dr. Puhalla. Tumor cells in patients with BRCA mutations are particularly reliant on the mechanism of DNA repair that is inhibited by the PARP, she explained.

In previous trials in which ABT-888 was used as combination treatment, it appeared to inhibit PARP, making cancer cells more sensitive to chemotherapy. "Our hope with this trial is that patients with BRCA mutations or certain other breast or ovarian cancers may respond to ABT-888 as a single agent," said Dr. Puhalla.

"This drug is also intriguing because breast cancer patients with BRCA mutations who have exhausted all other therapeutic options may have another treatment to turn to," noted Merrill Egorin, MD, professor of medicine and pharmacology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and study co-investigator. "Other trials also have suggested that ABT-888 may also have fewer side-effects than many other therapies."

The study will primarily be open to breast and ovarian cancer patients with a BRCA 1 or 2 genetic mutation, but patients with other subtypes of breast, ovarian or prostate cancer may be eligible.

The study is part of a National Cancer Institute (NCI)-funded initiative to develop new therapies to treat cancer more effectively. The program at UPCI is one of 15 in the country. Early phase clinical trials are the first step for all new therapeutics, and they are designed to evaluate the safety and dosing of novel therapies that have shown promise in earlier animal and preclinical studies.

Founded in 1984, the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute became an NCI -designated Comprehensive Cancer Center in 1990. UPCI, the only cancer center in western Pennsylvania with this elite designation, serves the region's population of more than 6 million. Presently, UPCI receives a total of $154 million in research grants and is ranked 10th in funding from the NCI.

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