Two old drugs eyed as new brain tumor treatment

Two cancer drugs used for other indications may help beat back a common malignant brain tumor resistant to current therapies, scientists from the U.S. and South Korea have found.

They made their drug discovery following an initial finding--a mutation of the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) in glioblastoma patients that may be a new brain tumor treatment target. Details are published online in the journal Cancer Research.

ImClone/Eli Lilly's Erbitux (Merck markets the drug internationally) and Roche's Tarceva don't work in all cancer patients and produce some side effects. But researchers said the drugs might be effective if used selectively for patients with glioblastoma, the most common malignant brain tumor that resists current therapies such as surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. Both drugs appeared to impair tumor formation in mice studies, researchers said.

Erbitux is the marketing name for cetuximab, which is approved to treat metastatic colorectal cancer and head and neck squamous cell carcinoma. Tarceva is the brand name for erlotinib--which oncologists use to treat lung and pancreatic cancers.

"This kind of research gets us closer to identifying genetic subtypes, to doing better biomarker-based clinical trials and to personalizing treatments in brain cancers," said Dr. Santosh Kesari, a corresponding study author and director of Neuro-Oncology at University of California San Diego (UCSD) Moores Cancer Center.

Previously, scientists had determined that glioblastomas contained EGFR, a common, genetically altered gene, but no one knew where the alteration came from. But researchers from UCSD, the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, Seoul's Samsung Cancer Research Institute and elsewhere determined in preclinical studies that an exon 27 deletion mutation within the EGFR carboxyl-terminus domain likely causes the mutation.

- here's the release
- check out the study abstract