A method of delivering chemotherapy drugs into a deadly type of brain tumor extended the lives of patients in early clinical trials. Researchers at the Brain Tumor Center at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City inserted catheters carrying the chemotherapy drug Topotecan directly into the tumors of 16 patients with recurrent malignant gliomas. Patients had a median survival of 59 weeks, with some patients living much longer. Almost 80 percent of the patients survived for at least six months. Side effects of the treatment included upper extremity weakness and left parietal syndrome, a neurological illness that causes problems such as right-left confusion and difficulty with writing. Although the study was small, researchers were encouraged by the results.
Malignant gliomas are among the most common and lethal brain tumors. According to the National Cancer Institute, malignant gliomas account for over half of the more than 18,000 malignant primary brain tumors diagnosed in the U.S. each year. Only three percent of patients with gliomas live for more than five years. The tumors are difficult to treat by conventional chemotherapy because the drugs cannot penetrate the blood-brain barrier. In addition, the tumors grow tentacles, making it a challenge to remove them surgically.
A Phase 2 study will begin in the next two or three months. The results of the Phase 1 trials will be presented Monday at the American Association of Neurological Surgeons annual meeting in San Diego.
A couple of companies are already working in the field of focal drug delivery for cancer patients. NeoPharm of Illinois is developing a tumor-targeting system to treat diseases such as pancreatic cancer and breast cancer. NuVue Therapeutics, based in Virginia, uses microencapsulated drugs and cryoablation therapy to target a variety of cancerous tumors.