Science Philanthropist Jeffrey Epstein Funds Key Research to Combat Colon Cancer
The science philanthropist, Jeffrey Epstein and the founder of the Program for Evolutionary Dynamics at Harvard University has helped fund new pivotal research to combat advanced colon cancer and specifically resistance to inhibitor drugs. The research was led by Dr. Martin Nowak, Director of the Program for Evolutionary Dynamics at Harvard and Dr. Bert Vogelstein at Johns Hopkins University. The team tried to determine why 28 colon cancer patients at Johns Hopkins were showing resistance to a very successful inhibitor drug called Panitumumab.
Over the last decade, inhibitor drugs have been growing in popularity to fight cancer. Unlike chemotherapy, inhibitors can block very specific cell pathways unique to each cancer type. However, the dilemma occurs when resistance to the drug inevitably evolves midst the cancer cell culture, leading to a more resilient, often faster growing cancer.
Dr. Vogelstein, who initiated the study of his 28 patients asked Dr. Nowak to create a mathematical model of how the cancer cells were reacting to the drug panitumumab. Nowak's findings were extremely revealing: they showed that during treatment, only about 1% of cells indicated mutated resistance to the drug. However, that 1% quickly evolved to dominance and to tumor level. Furthermore, Nowak's models showed that even prior to treatment, a minute pool of far less than 1% of cells were initially resistant and also evolved quickly to dominance as the others were killed off by the drug.
Up to now, doctors and clinical trials have been testing inhibitor drugs in sequence to one another: if one fails due to resistance, a new one is applied to fight it. And up until last year, the FDA required the merit of each individual drug be tested before allowing their combination in pill form.
"The problem with this sequential approach," Jeffrey Epstein remarked, "is that new resistance is guaranteed to occur to the second drug."
Based on the results of Nowak's mathematical models and finding, Dr. Vogelstein and Dr. Nowak concluded that a cocktail of inhibitor drugs must be used to target all possible mutations. The challenge however is daunting: there are few, if any clinical trials that offer inhibitor combinations, mutation analysis within each cancer needs to be more accurate than what current circulatory cancer cell blood testing allows and toxicity tolerance better evaluated. Advances are being made however. Just last October the FDA approved the first combined drug for melanoma and other combined pill form drugs are in the lineup.
The FDA's long awaited initiative in this field, will undoubtedly encourage drug companies to accelerate the development of more combined therapies, putting more pressure on the FDA in turn to approve them. There’s a long way to go but it's an encouraging direction.