Wilmot Cancer Center Studies New Chemo Pill for Lymphoma

Rochester Is First Site To Offer Therapy For Patients With Few Choices

July 12, 2007

Jonathan Friedberg, M.D.

Doctors at the University of Rochester’s James P. Wilmot Cancer Center are first in the world to study a new, targeted agent that zeroes-in on B-cell lymphomas. The new twice-a-day pill offers patients with recurrent disease another choice as their options grow thin.

This investigative drug, R788, targets a common protein in normal B cells – white blood cells that fight infection -- and lymphoma cells. Previous studies have shown that inhibiting the activity of this protein, called SYK, spurs cellular death. 

Jonathan Friedberg, M.D., director of hematological malignancies clinical research, is studying this drug to determine its impact on stubborn lymphomas. “If our standard therapies aren’t working for these patients who see their remissions fail repeatedly, then this drug might work for them,” Friedberg said. He said that if there is widespread success, this drug, in combination with other therapies might be a good one-two punch for lymphoma.

So far, nine Wilmot patients have participated in this study – the first in the world -- and initial tests are showing success, said Julia Schaefer-Cutillo, M.D., hematology/oncology Fellow.   Oncologists at Stanford, Cleveland Clinic, Weill Medical College of Cornell University, and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute will also participate in this study.

Wilmot oncologists are also collecting blood samples from all patients who will participate in the study before and after taking the medication, to analyze its impact on normal white blood cells.  They are also doing correlative studies on the therapy’s impact on the immune system. “There’s always need for a basic understanding of how new therapies work on cancers and human biology,” Schaefer-Cutillo said.

Friedberg is enthusiastic about this study of the new therapy because it demonstrates the pharmaceutical industry’s respect for the Wilmot Hematologic Malignancies Program, which includes 10 hematologists on faculty. Scientists from Rigel, the pharmaceutical firm developing R788, approached Friedberg to study the drug, because of the wealth of knowledge and expertise at Wilmot.

“We have transitioned to a leader in lymphoma care and as a result, we’re seeing the next generation of therapies available today in Rochester,” Friedberg said.

The Wilmot Cancer Center is the leader in cancer care and research for the Rochester and Finger Lakes region.  The center has a team of 400 doctors, nurses and support staff dedicated to finding cures for cancer.

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