News Flash > Alternative Health


Designer Drug Kills Cancer

Reported May 06, 2010

BOSTON, Mass. (Ivanhoe Newswire) -- About 1.6 million people will get a cancer diagnosis this year. The majority of them will be subjected to chemo and radiation -- a brutal approach that might or might not work. Doctors are trying to take the guesswork out of cancer by tailoring treatment to each patient. The new approach is giving two terminal cancer patients the gift of time.

It's an unlikely place to find inspiration. This is where Beverly Sotir fuels her fighting spirit.

"I have a CAT scan on my bathroom wall, and every morning,” Beverly Sotir told Ivanhoe. “I go into the bathroom, take my shower, come out and I can't tell you what I say to it, but I swear at it, and I tell it to get out of my body and leave me alone."

The grandmother of 14 wasn't a smoker, but a scan revealed tumors throughout her chest. Her diagnosis: stage-four lung cancer -- six months to live.

"Six months isn't long enough to do the things you want to do. Excuse me,"
Sotir explained.

Beverly went on a brutal chemo regiment that damaged her kidneys.

"You're just so sick,” Sotir said.

The tumors continued growing, until doctors targeted her treatment.

"This is not a one-size-fits-all disease. This is a disease where we need to find out what makes each individual cancer tick,” Pasi A. Janne, M.D., Ph.D. medical oncologist at Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston explained.



Thousands of tumor samples go into a robot, which reveals each tumor's DNA fingerprint.

That fingerprint helps doctors determine if the tumor has a genetic mutation -- an irregular gene.

"And these specific mutations would give us important clues about how to treat the patients” Leif Ellisen, M.D., medical oncologist at Mass General Hospital Cancer Center in Boston said. “That is the ‘ah ha’ moment.”

For Beverly, it meant taking a drug designed specifically to block her tumor's mutation. The results…

"Probably about a 30 to 40 percent reduction in the tumor itself,” Janne said.

"It was just shrinking and shrinking. It's unbelievable. It really is that it's just for you,” Sotir recalled.

Doctors say personalized medicine isn't a cure-all for cancer, but it has been successful in fighting breast, lung, colon and skin cancers. Martin Farkash is also fighting for his life. He has melanoma that spread to his lymph nodes.

"I always believed that if I could live long enough, something would be discovered," Farkash said.

Martin was right. Doctors pinpointed a genetic mutation in his tumor and gave him a designer drug to kill the cancer. Within six weeks, his tumors shrank by 40 percent.

"I was exhilarated. I can't describe the emotion,” Farkash recalled.

Doctor Keith Flaherty says 10 percent of melanoma patients respond to traditional therapy. With the personalized approach, that goes up to 80 percent.

"Simply put, we want to be able to offer our patients therapies that work," Flaherty explained.
Keith Flaherty, MD

Meanwhile, Beverly's lung tumor shrank a total of 50 percent, thanks to medicine made with the patient in mind.

Right now, hospitals charge about $2,000 for genetic testing of cancer. Insurance covers it if there is proven medical benefits. Doctors at Mass General are hunting for 122 known mutations or genes that may predict whether drugs already on the shelf or in development might kill a patient's cancer.

Katie Marquedant, Senior Media Relations
Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center
Boston, MA
(617) 726-0337