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The Lancet Oncology

Thursday, January 29, 2009

New cancer drug may offer broad potential in the treatment of solid tumors

TGen Clinical Research Services (TCRS) is testing a new drug that may offer broad potential to treat solid tumors. Clinical trials of the drug TH-302, an anticancer agent in clinical development by Threshold Pharmaceuticals (1300 Seaport Blvd, Suite 500, Redwood City, CA 94063), are being conducted at the Mayo Clinic in Arizona by TGen Clinical Research Services, a partnership of Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) and Scottsdale Healthcare Corp.

Dr. Glen Weiss, Director of Thoracic Oncology at TGen Clinical Research Services TCRS at Scottsdale Healthcare, said the new drug appears promising and may be more effective and less toxic to healthy tissues than conventional drugs.

‘TH-302 is a new, novel, small molecule that is activated under a metabolic condition characteristic of cancer cells — hypoxia. The drug candidate may provide an opportunity to treat slowly dividing tumor cells within hypoxic regions that generally evade traditional chemotherapeutic agents and ultimately contribute to relapse,’ Dr. Weiss explained.

Phase I and Phase I/II trials are underway to investigate the safety and activity of TH-302 in patients with advanced solid tumors. After evidence of tumor activity was observed in the Phase I trial in patients with advanced melanoma – both non-small cell lung cancer and small cell lung cancer – the study was expanded to further investigate TH-302 anti-tumor activity in these tumors. Both Phase I and I/II trials continue to enroll patients with other solid tumors. If successful, Phase II and III clinical trials will confirm the drug's effectiveness on solid tumors.

Tumor hypoxia
Hypoxia is a condition in which there is a decrease in the oxygen concentration in tissue. In cancer, as a tumor grows, it rapidly outgrows its blood supply, leaving portions of the tumor with regions where the oxygen concentration is significantly lower than in healthy tissues. This condition is called tumor hypoxia. Several studies have shown that higher levels of tumor hypoxia correlate with poor treatment outcomes for a variety of solid tumors. It is believed that hypoxia may severely limit the curability of tumors.

This lack of oxygen in cancer cells compared to normal cells is exploited by Threshold’s Hypoxia-Activated Prodrug (HAP) platform. In time, this breakthrough technology platform may provide an opportunity to treat slowly dividing tumor cells within hypoxic regions that generally evade traditional chemotherapeutic agents and ultimately contribute to relapse.

A New Class of Drug
TH-302 is converted selectively in the presence of hypoxia to the drug’s active form, bromo-isophosphoramide mustard, a potent DNA alkylator. TH-302 targets levels of hypoxia that are common in tumors but are rare in normal tissues – this is how selective targeting of the tumor occurs. After conversion to the active form of the drug, the more resistant hypoxic cells are exposed to high concentrations of released cytotoxic agent, which can also diffuse into the oxygenated regions of a tumor cell. The Phase I/II trials are investigating the safety and activity of TH-302 in combination with a number of conventional chemotherapies that are believed to be effective in the non-hypoxic regions of solid tumors.

The clinical trial at TCRS at Scottsdale Healthcare will investigate the safety and pharmacology of multiple doses of TH-302 in patients with late-stage cancer.

The initial phase I clinical trial of TH-302 started in July 2007. In July 2008, interim results were presented. This trial was designed with an initial accelerated titration design followed by a standard dose escalation schema. The trial completed the accelerated titration design component and has enrolled the eighth dosing cohort. The weekly dose had been escalated from the initial dose of 7.5 mg/m2 to 670 mg/m2. None of the 20 patients enrolled at the time of the presentation has experienced any dose limiting toxicities (DLTs). One patient with refractory small cell lung cancer metastatic to the liver had a partial response at their initial response assessment with a greater than 45% reduction in target lesion diameters. The patient, who had received two cycles of TH-302, was being followed by RECIST (Response Evaluation Criteria In Solid Tumors) criteria. Other anti-tumor activity observed include one patient with non-small cell lung cancer with tumor shrinkage lasting over 6 months.

In August 2008, an additional clinical trial of TH-302 was initiated. The design of this trial included three separate treatment arms that will each examine TH-302 in combination with either gemcitabine, docetaxel or pemetrexed.

Approximately 50 patients with advanced solid tumors are planned to enroll in the Phase I/II, open-label, dose-escalation portion of the clinical trial. Up to six patients per dose level will participate in the dose escalation phase of the trial. Once the maximum tolerated dose (MTD) has been reached, the Phase II portion of the trial will enroll an additional 12 patients at the MTD within each treatment arm including gemcitabine in advanced pancreatic cancer patients, docetaxel in patients with castrate-resistant prostate cancer (CRPC) and pemetrexed in patients with non-small cell lung cancer.

Researchers expect that within the next several years a number of development candidates will arise from the hypoxia-activate prodrug platform.

For more information:


  • The new version of RECIST (version 1.1) has been presented at the 20th EORTC-NCI-AACR Symposium on Molecular Targets and Cancer Therapeutics in Geneva, Switzerland (21-24 October 2008) and will be published in a special edition of the European Journal of Cancer in the first quarter of 2009.

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