RPCI receives NCI grant to continue research program on photodynamic therapy for head and neck cancers

Roswell Park Cancer Institute (RPCI) has received continuation of a prestigious program project grant from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) for research through the Roswell Park Photodynamic Therapy Center. The comprehensive cancer center will receive $10 million over the next five years to continue its research program on photodynamic therapy (PDT) — specifically in head and neck cancers — under the direction of Sandra Gollnick, PhD, of the Department of Cell Stress Biology and Director of the Photodynamic Center.

Head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) is the 6th most common cancer worldwide and the 8th most common cancer occurring in men in the United States, due in part to the rising epidemic of oropharyngeal cancer associated with the human papillomavirus (HPV).

Despite modern treatment regimens, outcomes for these cancers have remained largely unchanged over the past 30 years. Standard-of-care treatment — surgery, radiation and chemotherapy — while effective for early-stage cancers, can severely impact quality of life, affecting facial appearance and impairing ability to chew, swallow and speak. For later-stage and recurrent cancers, current treatment outcomes remain poor.

PDT is a unique FDA-approved cancer treatment developed at Roswell Park that combines light-sensitizing drugs with laser light. It offers a novel treatment that may better preserve quality of life. Because PDT does not induce treatment resistance or result in cumulative toxicity, it can be repeated multiple times to generate an effective cure. At Roswell Park, PDT is offered as a treatment option for many skin, lung and esophageal cancers as well as Barrett's esophagus and other precancerous conditions.

"We believe that our work with photodynamic therapy will lead to three important results for patients with head and neck cancers," says Dr. Gollnick, who is also a Distinguished Professor in Roswell Park's Department of Immunology. "We aim to demonstrate that PDT results in long-term tumor responses that compare to, or prove even better than, the current standards of care; that PDT can lead to less arduous treatment regimens; and that it can cause significantly fewer quality-of-life issues."

Previous studies, some conducted at Roswell Park, have shown that PDT is a safe and well-tolerated therapy for early-stage cancers of the oral cavity/oropharynx and larynx, and that it has resulted in excellent outcomes with good functional and cosmetic results for both early- and late-stage HNSCC. With the new funding, RPCI's Photodynamic Therapy Center embarks on three major projects:

• Clinical trials involving Roswell Park, the University of Minnesota (Minneapolis, Minn.), the University of Rochester (Rochester, N.Y.) and Johns Hopkins University (Baltimore, Md.), in collaboration with Photolitec LLC (Buffalo, N.Y.), to evaluate PDT as a frontline therapy for early-stage disease and assess the ability of PDT to reduce the toxic effects of chemotherapy in treatment of recurrent and advanced head and neck cancers.

• Research into how PDT can be improved by enhancing cancer cells' retention of the photosensitizing drugs, based on tumor-specific characteristics.

• Investigation of how PDT impacts patient antitumor immunity to understand how this local therapy results in a systemic immune response that may combat metastatic disease.

"Our achievements over the past two decades have resulted in numerous innovative advances in the field," adds Dr. Gollnick. "We now seek to employ our expertise and clinical program to address an unmet need in the treatment of head and neck cancers. We believe that successful completion of this program will also move PDT from a niche therapy to a standard of care treatment for these malignancies."

PDT was developed at Roswell Park in the late 1970s by Thomas Dougherty, PhD, Chief Emeritus of the Photodynamic Therapy Center. This treatment uses drugs called photosensitizers, which collect in cancer cells but not healthy ones. When activated by nonthermal red laser light, the drugs trigger cancer cell death, sparing healthy cells. A new, second-generation photosensitizer compound called HPPH, or Photoclor, was created at Roswell Park by Ravindra Pandey, PhD, Professor and Distinguished Member in the Department of Cell Stress Biology and Director of Pharmaceutical Chemistry. RPCI's Photodynamic Therapy Center is a world leader in the use of PDT and offers the treatment for many skin, lung, gynecologic, esophageal, oral, head and neck cancers, as well as Barrett's esophagus and other precancerous conditions or lesions.


Roswell Park Cancer Institute (RPCI)


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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