CINJ researchers test malaria drug for colorectal cancer treatment

While new cases of colorectal cancer continue to decline in the United States, it remains the third leading cause of cancer death in the nation, according to the American Cancer Society. That is why researchers at The Cancer Institute of New Jersey (CINJ) are looking to add a drug known for fighting malaria to traditional chemotherapy for colorectal cancer to see if treatment can be made more effective for patients. CINJ is a Center of Excellence of UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.

According to the American Cancer Society, nearly 147,000 new cases of colorectal cancer were diagnosed in the U.S. last year with 4,600 new cases in New Jersey. It has a five-year survival rate of 68 percent for disease that has spread (metastasized) to nearby organs and has only an 11 percent, five-year survival rate for disease that has spread beyond nearby organs. It is the advanced state of disease that investigators at CINJ are targeting in this study.

The standard treatment for colorectal cancer that has spread beyond where surgery can cure it is chemotherapy. The current standard of chemotherapy (oxaliplatin), which is given by vein, includes a drug (bevacizumab) that prevents the growth of cancer blood vessels. It also includes a pill (capecitabine) or an injection medication similar to capecitabine. This therapy shrinks the cancer in fewer than half of the patients treated, and usually this shrinkage is only temporary.

Rebecca Moss, MD, medical oncologist at CINJ and assistant professor of medicine at UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, is the lead researcher on the study, which will look at adding a drug known as hydroxychloroquine -- commonly used to treat malaria and certain types of arthritis -- to this standard treatment. Research in the laboratories of CINJ Associate Director for Basic Science Eileen White, PhD, adjunct professor of surgery at UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School; and CINJ medical oncologist, Vassiliki Karantza, MD, PhD, assistant professor of medicine at UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, indicates that drugs such as hydroxychloroquine may prevent cancer cells from becoming resistant to chemotherapy or drugs that prevent the growth of cancer blood vessels.

"By adding hydroxychloroquine to the standard treatment, we are hoping chemotherapy will be more effective for patients with colorectal cancer," said Dr. Moss. "It is frustrating that the very good standard medications developed over the past several years do not work as well as we would like against this disease. Drs. White and Karantza's research helps us understand how cancers evade these treatments. Especially for those with advanced disease, this new combination could make cancer treatment more effective and provide a better quality of life."

Prior to being accepted into the study, participants would undergo a number of tests including blood work, a physical and x-rays. If accepted for participation in the trial, individuals would go through multiple 21-day cycles of treatment consisting of chemotherapy given through a vein once per cycle. Patients also would take pills by mouth each day and would need to keep both a pill diary and blood pressure diary. Participants would continue to undergo routine blood work and have regular imaging scans such as a CT to determine disease status.

Adults with metastatic colon cancer who have not previously received treatment for metastatic disease are eligible to take part in the study, although other criteria must be met. All patients will receive treatment medications, not placebos. The study is part of the CINJ Oncology Group (CINJOG), which is comprised of physicians throughout New Jersey from the CINJ Network of hospitals. For additional information on how to participate, individuals should call 732-235-7251.

Clinical trials, often called cancer research studies, test new treatments and new ways of using existing treatments for cancer. At CINJ, researchers use these studies to answer questions about how a treatment affects the human body and to make sure it is safe and effective. There are several types of clinical trials that are currently underway at CINJ, including those that diagnose, treat, prevent, and manage symptoms of cancer. Many treatments used today, whether it is drugs or vaccines; ways to do surgery or give radiation therapy; or combinations of treatments, are the results of past clinical trials.

As New Jersey's only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, CINJ offers patients access to treatment options not available at other institutions within the state. CINJ currently enrolls more than 1,000 patients in clinical trials, including approximately 15 percent of all new adult cancer patients and approximately 70 percent of all pediatric cancer patients. Enrollment in these studies nationwide is fewer than five percent of all adult cancer patients.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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