Synergistic Drug Combinations Provide Better Outcomes for Cancer Patients

Among the most sought after attributes of chemotherapy drug combinations is drug synergy. Synergy, defined as supra-additivity wherein the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, reflects an elegant interaction between drugs predicated on their modes of action. While some synergistic interactions can be predicted based upon the pharmacology of the agents, others are more obscure.

We have extensively examined the synergy between classes of drugs based on known modes of action. But, in some circumstances, our studies have been purely exploratory. Among our most successful findings have been:

  1. Alkylating agent plus purine analogs (cytoxan & fludarabine)
  2. Platin plus antimetabolites (cisplatin & 5FU; cisplatin & gemcitabine)
  3. Dual antimetabolite combinations (gemcitabine & capecitabine)
  4. Natural products plus anti-metabolite (Doxil & gemcitabine; vinorelbine & capecitabine)

More recently, we have explored the interaction between signal transduction inhibitors. The results of these investigations have been the subject of numerous presentations at international meetings.

The application of synergy analyses may represent one of the most important applications of our functional profiling platform; enabling us to explore both anticipated and unanticipated favorable interactions. Equally important may be our capacity to study drug antagonism wherein two effective drugs counteract each others’ benefits. This phenomenon, characterized by the whole being less than the sum of the parts, represents a major pitfall for clinical trialists who simply combine drugs “because they can.”

These analyses are revolutionizing the way our group applies newer classes of drugs and has the potential to accelerate drug development and clinical therapeutics. Good outcomes require good drugs, but better outcomes require good combinations. Intelligent combinations are a principle focus of the work at Rational Therapeutics. We strive everyday to identify the best outcomes for patients.

About Dr. Robert A. Nagourney
Dr. Nagourney received his undergraduate degree in chemistry from Boston University and his doctor of medicine at McGill University in Montreal, where he was a University Scholar. After a residency in internal medicine at the University of California, Irvine, he went on to complete fellowship training in medical oncology at Georgetown University, as well as in hematology at the Scripps Institute in La Jolla. During his fellowship at Georgetown University, Dr. Nagourney confronted aggressive malignancies for which the standard therapies remained mostly ineffective. No matter what he did, all of his patients died. While he found this “standard of care” to be unacceptable, it inspired him to return to the laboratory where he eventually developed “personalized cancer therapy.” In 1986, Dr. Nagourney, along with colleague Larry Weisenthal, MD, PhD, received a Phase I grant from a federally funded program and launched Oncotech, Inc. They began conducting experiments to prove that human tumors resistant to chemotherapeutics could be re-sensitized by pre-incubation with calcium channel blockers, glutathione depletors and protein kinase C inhibitors. The original research was a success. Oncotech grew with financial backing from investors who ultimately changed the direction of the company’s research. The changes proved untenable to Dr. Nagourney and in 1991, he left the company he co-founded. He then returned to the laboratory, and developed the Ex-vivo Analysis - Programmed Cell Death ® (EVA-PCD) test to identify the treatments that would induce programmed cell death, or “apoptosis.” He soon took a position as Director of Experimental Therapeutics at the Cancer Institute of Long Beach Memorial Medical Center. His primary research project during this time was chronic lymphocytic leukemia. He remained in this position until the basic research program funding was cut, at which time he founded Rational Therapeutics in 1995. It is here where the EVA-PCD test is used to identity the drug, combinations of drugs or targeted therapies that will kill a patient's tumor - thus providing patients with truly personalized cancer treatment plans. With the desire to change how cancer care is delivered, he became Medical Director of the Todd Cancer Institute at Long Beach Memorial in 2003. In 2008, he returned to Rational Therapeutics full time to rededicate his time and expertise to expand the research opportunities available through the laboratory. He is a frequently invited lecturer for numerous professional organizations and universities, and has served as a reviewer and on the editorial boards of several journals including Clinical Cancer Research, British Journal of Cancer, Gynecologic Oncology, Cancer Research and the Journal of Medicinal Food.

One Response to Synergistic Drug Combinations Provide Better Outcomes for Cancer Patients

  1. Gregory D. Pawelski says:

    When the front-line treatment for solid tumors is still chemotherapy (cytotoxic or targeted) and the best that blockbuster drugs can achieve is to prolong the inevitable by either a few months or not at all, then it’s surely time to look outside the box.

    Today, we have the ability to take a cancer specimen, analyze it, and follow those genetic changes that influence particular pathways, then use two, three, four or more targeted therapies, perhaps simultaneously, and be able to completely interrupt the flow of the cancer process.

    A number of cell-based assay labs across the country have data from tens of thousands of fresh human tumor specimens, representing virtually all types of human solid and hematologic neoplasms. They have the database necessary to define sensitivity and resistance for virtually all of the currently available drugs in virtually all types of human solid and hematologic neoplasms.

    Genomics is far too limited in scope to encompass the vagaries and complexities of human cancer biology when it comes to drug selection. Efforts to administer targeted therapies in randomly selected patients often result in low response rates at significant toxicity and cost.

    Cell-based functional profiling is able to accurately predict how an individual patient’s cancer cells will repond to an array of drug combinations. It is able to quantify synergistic drug combinations and individually tailor treatment.

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