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Noted This Week - 2011 Archive

Archive of cancer-related news briefs, by week, for 2011

December 2011

December 29, 2011

  • Under a Health and Human Services spending bill signed into law in December, the NIH will receive a net $242 million increase in fiscal year (FY) 2012 to $30.64 billion. The National Cancer Institute's FY 2012 budget will be $5.072 billion, a net increase of approximately $12 million from FY 2011. The bill also supports the establishment of the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS), designed to "serve as the nation's hub for catalyzing innovations in translational science," says the NIH, with a budget of $575 million.
  • Adding bevacizumab (Avastin; Genentech) to the treatment of women with ovarian cancer boosted progression-free survival in two phase III clinical trials reported this week in The New England Journal of Medicine. "This is the first new drug in ovarian cancer in 15 years to improve outcome," said Amit Oza, MD, of the Princess Margaret Cancer Program and Timothy Perren, MD, of St. James's Institute of Oncology, co-leaders on one trial that found the benefits to be greatest among those at high risk for disease progression. Another study led by U.S. researchers showed that use of the anti-angiogenesis agent during and up to 10 months after carboplatin and paclitaxel chemotherapy prolonged median progression-free survival by about 4 months in patients with advanced epithelial ovarian cancer.
  • Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center has received a $50-million donation in honor of Josephine Robertson, a former board member. The gift will sponsor two high-profile initiatives: a new 16-story surgical center and the Josie Robertson Investigators Program for recruiting exceptional young physicians and scientists, 10 of whom will receive 5-year appointments during the program's first 5 years.

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  • A compound produced from an ω-3 fatty acid found in fish oil has targeted and eliminated stem cells in chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML) in mice, according to a report in Blood.
  • "Life sciences companies faced challenges in 2011 from complex and rapidly changing capital markets, uncertainty with regulatory issues, and a reimbursement system that has grown increasingly hostile toward innovations," says G. Steven Burrill, CEO of the life sciences financial services firm Burrill & Company. Among predictions in his year-end forecast: "With the establishment of [an approval] pathway for biosimilars, the landscape will take shape in 2012 with well-funded pharmaceutical companies and generic drugmakers vying to stake a claim… The emergence of bio-betters will also provide a new source of competition to well–established biologics."

December 22, 2011

  • Fox Chase Cancer Center, a National Cancer Institute Comprehensive Cancer Center, will become part of Temple University Health System under an affiliation agreement the two Philadelphia organizations signed December 15.
  • With its fundraising income dropping, Cancer Research UK will cut back on research spending by about £30 million ($47 million U.S.) annually for the next 3 years. It will continue to fund around £300 million in research each year. The charity will no longer offer new 3-year project grants in basic research.
  • A phase II trial conducted by the Radiation Therapy Oncology Group demonstrates that combining bevacizumab (Avastin; Genentech) with standard chemoradiation therapy could prolong survival in patients with advanced nasopharyngeal carcinoma, according to a paper published in The Lancet Oncology.
  • Findings in mouse studies show that epoxyeicosatrienoic acids (EET) work in concert with VEGF to induce blood vessel growth and thus indicate that blocking EET production may aid in cancer treatment. The report in The Journal of Clinical Investigation also points out that other preclinical work has suggested that patients with various vascular conditions may benefit by increasing their EET levels.
  • The American Cancer Society has revised its cancer-screening guideline formation process. Its new process includes creating a single generalist group for writing the guidelines, commissioning systematic evidence reviews, and articulating benefits, limitations, and harms associated with cancer screening tests.
  • An Institute of Medicine report outlines recommendations for the types of research that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration should require before allowing tobacco companies to advertise "modified risk" tobacco products as capable of reducing the health risks of tobacco.
  • During a review of protections for human subjects, the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues requested information from 18 federal agencies that conduct most federal human subjects research, but discovered that many could not provide basic data about their efforts. In a report issued on December 15, the Commission recommended that the government consider developing a unified federal research database for such studies.

December 15, 2011

  • A consensus panel convened by the National Institutes of Health endorsed active surveillance in lieu of immediate surgery or radiation for patients with low-risk prostate tumors. The draft statement listed unanswered questions about the proper role of active surveillance that should be examined in future research and recommended that federal funding be directed to multi-institutional trials and prostate cancer registries.
  • The U.S. Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) Oncologic Drugs Advisory Committee unanimously agreed that the FDA should approve the vascular endothelial growth factor receptor inhibitor axitinib (Inlyta; Pfizer) for patients with advanced renal cell carcinoma who haven't responded to another treatment, even though the benefit in progression-free survival was only about 2 months.
  • A congressional resolution that reaffirms the national commitment to understanding and controlling cancer on the 40th anniversary of the National Cancer Act has been sponsored by 42 U.S. senators.
  • Hispanic women who receive chemotherapy are about 1.5 times more likely to die from breast cancer compared with non-Hispanic white women who receive chemotherapy, after adjusting for age, stage, lymph node involvement, and estrogen receptor status, according to a recent analysis of the New Mexico Women's Health Study presented at the Cancer Therapy & Research Center (CTRC) and American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium (SABCS).
  • "This entire symposium could be about resistance to endocrine therapy," remarked Eric Winer, MD, director of the breast oncology center at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, in a SABCS plenary lecture. "The most important form of resistance is the resistance to taking medicine."
  • In a related finding, 36% of postmenopausal women who are treated for estrogen-sensitive breast cancer quit early because of the medications' side effects, which are more severe and widespread than previously known, a Northwestern Medicine research team reported at SABCS. The study pinpointed a major disconnect between what women tell their doctors about side effects and what they experience.
  • "We're seeing a lot of what I call 3D analyses: Desperate Data Dredging," said Peter Ravdin, MD, PhD, of the University of Texas Health Science Center, San Antonio, commenting on the number of posthoc analyses of clinical trials not meeting their original endpoints presented at SABCS. "As we say here in Texas, 'there's got to be a pony in there somewhere.'"

December 8, 2011

  • Researchers at Princess Margaret Hospital reported, based on a prospective study of 121 women, that comparing biopsies of progressing or recurrent cancer with the original tumor sample altered treatment in 14% of the women based on changes in receptor status. When treatment was modified, the survival rates of patients with recurrent disease that differed from the original tumor were similar to those in whom the disease was the same.
  • The nonprofit Nevada Cancer Institute (NVCI) has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and agreed to sell its outpatient treatment facility, operations, and some personal property to the UC San Diego Health System. The sale should be final in early 2012. NVCI plans to keep its doors open and continue treating patients.
  • Blood vessels inside tumors are abnormal and leaky, doing a poor job of supplying chemotherapy to tumor cells. But Ohio State University researchers reported that treatment with the neurotransmitter dopamine can improve blood flow to tumors, enhancing chemotherapy delivery and shrinking tumor size.
  • The National Cancer Institute has launched SmokefreeTXT, a free text-message smoking-cessation service offering encouragement and advice via cell phone to teens trying to quit. Messages are timed to a selected quit date and continue for up to 6 weeks. Teens can sign up online at or text QUIT to iQUIT (47848).
  • The authors of a commentary in The Journal of the American Medical Association argue for the regulation of direct-to-consumer genetic testing and suggest that people who order whole-genome sequencing should have an independent expert interpret the results. "Calls for regulation inevitably raise concerns about paternalism," they write. "Yet medicine is, to at least some extent, an inherently paternalistic endeavor simply because of an inevitable asymmetry in knowledge…"

December 1, 2011

  • Younger patients with diffuse large B-cell lymphoma given a more intensive regimen of chemotherapy combined with rituximab survive significantly longer, and are about twice as likely to remain in remission 3 years later, compared with patients given standard chemotherapy treatment plus rituximab, according to an article in the Lancet.
  • Washington University School of Medicine is offering physicians throughout the United States the ability to order tests for their patients covering mutations in 28 genes associated with cancer.
  • By studying the entire population of Denmark from 1980 to 2007, researchers found that cancer survivors have more than double the risk of a second primary cancer of the same type, according to a report in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.
  • The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved BSD Medical's BSD-2000 Hyperthermia System, which delivers localized therapeutic heating to solid tumors by applying radiofrequency energy, for use in conjunction with radiation therapy in treating patients with cervical cancer who are ineligible for chemotherapy.
  • A recombinant nonpathogenic clone of the Trypanosoma cruzi parasite is highly efficient in inducing T cell–mediated immunity and protection against cancer cells, according to studies in vitro and in mice reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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November 2011

November 23, 2011

  • Long-term coffee consumption may be associated with a reduced risk for endometrial cancer, according to a study in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention. Among 67,470 women enrolled in the Nurses' Health Study and followed for 26 years, drinking more than 4 cups of coffee per day was linked with a 25% reduced risk for endometrial cancer.
  • Cisplatin binds up to 20-fold more pervasively to RNA than to DNA, a finding that may suggest new approaches to targeting the common chemotherapeutic and reducing its toxicity, according to research published in ACS Chemical Biology.
  • Scientists can use unique molecular identifiers to count the absolute number of DNA or RNA molecules in a sample, as described in a report in Nature Methods.
  • Patients with non–small cell lung cancer who have mutations in the KRAS gene should respond well to antifolate drugs, Quintiles scientists reported last week at the AACR-NCI-EORTC International Conference on Molecular Targets and Cancer Therapeutics.
  • In cancer screening, "we have spent a staggering amount of time and energy over the past several decades developing, discussing, and debating guidelines," noted Michael Edward Stefanek, PhD, associate vice president of collaborative research at Indiana University, in a commentary in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. "It seems that it would be much more productive to devote such energy to educating screening candidates about the harms and benefits of screening and to engaging in shared decision making."

November 17, 2011

  • Treatment with the monoclonal antibody denosumab (Xgeva; Amgen) can delay development of bone metastases in men with prostate cancer, according to an international clinical trial reported in The Lancet. The study, which enrolled 1,432 participants in 30 countries, is said to be the first to successfully reduce bone metastasis in such patients and to underline the importance of preventing prostate tumor spread by targeting the bone microenvironment.
  • MD Anderson Cancer Center has broken ground on the Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan Building for Personalized Cancer Care, a 12-story structure scheduled for completion in 2014.
  • An international study reported in Nature has identified a novel mutation in the transcription factor MITF that appears to increase the risk of both inherited and sporadic cases of malignant melanoma. The research included analyses of genotyped samples from studies involving more than 15,000 individuals.
  • Amplification of anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK) may be a primary driver of rapid metastasis in patients with inflammatory breast cancer, according to data presented at this week's AACR-NCI-EORTC International Conference on Molecular Targets and Cancer Therapeutics. Fredika Robertson, PhD, of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, and her colleagues found ALK amplification in 13 of 15 tumor samples taken from patients with the lethal variant of breast cancer. Their follow-up work in cell lines and animal models suggested that ALK inhibitors may be a new treatment approach for this patient population.
  • "Probably, future clinical trials will include a cost-comparison arm," commented William Hait, MD, PhD, global therapeutic head for oncology at Johnson & Johnson Pharmaceutical Research and Development, in a keynote address at the Molecular Targets and Cancer Therapeutics conference. "We've already started to have this discussion with healthcare authorities around the world, and it's a very interesting discussion."

November 10, 2011

  • Older women may be missing out on improvements in breast cancer treatment and detection, according to a new report in the Journal of Clinical Oncology from MD Anderson Cancer Center. The National Cancer Institute's Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) registry was used to analyze the risk of breast cancer death from a cohort of 219,024 women diagnosed from 1980 to 1997. By 1995 to 1997, the risk for women ages 75 and older—the fastest growing segment of the breast cancer population—was 17.3% while risks for younger women ranged from 15.4% to 16.6%.
  • In one of the first phase III randomized trials comparing two targeted agents, a study found that axitinib (Pfizer) provided median progression-free survival of 6.7 months among 723 patients with metastatic renal cell cancer compared to 4.7 months with sorafenib (Nexavar; Bayer and Onyx Pharmaceuticals). Published in The Lancet, the study was funded by Pfizer.
  • The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved MELA Sciences's MelaFind device, which analyzes digital images of skin growth for signs of cancer, for use by dermatologists seeking additional information for a decision to biopsy.
  • The American Society of Clinical Oncology has released a Blueprint for Transforming Clinical and Translational Cancer Research. The document makes recommendations by which policymakers and the cancer community can work to "establish approaches to therapeutic development driven by our more thorough understanding of cancer biology and the advent of new technologies; design smarter, faster clinical trials to provide evidence for effective treatments targeted to patients most likely to benefit, sooner; and harness advances in health information technology to seamlessly integrate clinical research and patient care."
  • Backed by 11 private and academic medical centers along with industry, foundations, and individual philanthropists, the New York Genome Center (NYGC) has launched what is expected to be one of the largest genomic facilities in North America. NYGC will open a 120,000-square-foot facility in Manhattan as early as spring 2012.

November 3, 2011

  • Researchers at Fox Chase Cancer Center have made a comprehensive assay of 178 kinase inhibitor candidate drugs that can block the activity of one or more of 300 kinases. A free library of the results is available online to the research community as an aid to accelerate the development of targeted cancer agents.
  • The National Cancer Institute's Alliance for Nanotechnology in Cancer is kicking off a public–private partnership to promote translational research and development opportunities for nanotechnology-based cancer solutions. The TONIC (Translation of Nanotechnology In Cancer) consortium will bring together government agencies and pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies to evaluate promising nanotechnology platforms and speed their translation to the clinic.
  • Guidelines designed to provide an easy-to-use checklist for the accurate and ethical reporting of epidemiologic studies involving molecular markers have been proposed by a group of international researchers and published in PLoS Medicine.
  • Radiologic and multi-detector computed tomography scans of a male Egyptian mummy from Lisbon's National Museum of Archeology suggest a diagnosis of osteoblastic metastatic disease originating in the prostate. Published in the International Journal of Paleopathology, these findings from a wrapped mummy may be the oldest evidence of prostate cancer.
  • The long-term risk for ovarian cancer and borderline ovarian tumors doubles in women treated with in vitro fertilization compared with sub-fertile women not undergoing this treatment. These findings are based on a study of 25,152 women published in Human Reproduction.
  • The X Prize Foundation will give a $10 million prize to the first team that accurately sequences the whole genome of 100 subjects within 30 days for $1,000 or less per genome, at an error rate no greater than one per million base pairs.
  • An interactive training tool that included feedback on audio recordings of visits with patients produced more empathic responses from oncologists, and patients reported greater trust in their doctors, according to results in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

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October 2011

October 27, 2011

  • Exelixis Inc.'s cabozantinib more than doubled survival time for patients with advanced medullary thyroid cancer; the company says that patients who received the drug candidate had median survival of 11 months before death or disease progression, compared to 4 months for patients given a placebo. The trial involved 315 patients whose cancer had progressed, was inoperable, or had metastasized. Cabozantinib is also under study for treating prostate and ovarian cancers.
  • The University of California, Davis, and BGI are partnering to establish a BGI sequencing facility on the UC Davis Health System campus in Sacramento and to initiate planning for a permanent BGI@UC Davis Joint Genome Center. BGI, headquartered in Shenzhen, China, is the world's largest genomic organization.
  • A preliminary meta-analysis of 18 studies that examined analgesics use and renal cell carcinoma (RCC) risk found that any use of acetaminophen was associated with a 33% increased risk for RCC, and use of other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs was linked with a 26% increased risk. But aspirin consumption did not show increased risk for RCC, according to a presentation at the International Conference on Frontiers in Cancer Prevention Research.
  • Researchers who grafted tumor tissue from breast cancer patients directly into mouse mammary glands found that the grafts remained virtually identical to the original human breast cancer in pathology, growth, metastasis, and disease outcomes, according to a Nature Medicine paper.

October 20, 2011

  • Studies published in Cell suggest that the messenger RNA of one gene can control, and be controlled by, the mRNA of other genes via a large pool of microRNA molecules, with dozens to hundreds of genes working together in complex self-regulating sub-networks. The papers by Karreth, Tay, and Sumazin et al. may aid investigations into how tumors develop and grow, who is at risk for cancer, and how to identify and inactivate key molecules that encourage cancer growth and metastasis.
  • More complete evidence is needed before human papillomavirus (HPV)-enhanced primary screening for cervical cancer is widely adopted for women age 30 years and older, according to a report from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. The Task Force also recommended that cervical cancer screening should not begin before 21 years of age, or continue after age 65 among women who have had adequate screening and are not otherwise at high risk.
  • The U.S. Institute of Medicine has published a summary of its Public Engagement and Clinical Trials: New Models and Disruptive Technologies workshop, held in June.
  • The NIH Intramural Research Program recently launched a website aimed at a broad audience including scientists outside the NIH and organized by focus area of research, such as cell biology, immunology, and clinical research.

October 13, 2011

  • Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and the Uganda Cancer Institute have broken ground on the first comprehensive cancer center jointly constructed by U.S. and African institutions in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Men who took 400 units of vitamin E daily showed a 17% increase in prostate cancer over men who took a placebo, according to a report from the Selenium and Vitamin E Cancer Prevention Trial in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
  • Over the next decade, the population of U.S. cancer survivors over 65 years of age will increase by approximately 42%, to about 11 million, according to a study in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.
  • Complete Genomics, working with the Scripps Health system in San Diego, is funding and gathering whole-genome sequences for 1,000 elderly people in the "Wellderly Study", which examines people from ages 80 through 108 years without any major diseases or long-term health complications.
  • Interviewing 28 cancer research experts to explore the diversity in views about the process of cancer metastasis, a study in PLoS Computational Biology found ubiquitous disagreement about assumptions in any model of metastasis.
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